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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Chokh / Tchock / Tchokh Culture (Mesolithic) (North Caucasus)
c.11,000 - 6000 BC

The Upper Palaeolithic and Upper Mesolithic Epigravettian culture was one which emerged in Southern Europe shortly before the Solutrean was succeeded across much of the north by the Magdalenian culture. To its west was the Azilian, with these all forming some of the last of Europe's Palaeolithic cultures.

On the Eastern European fringe of these advances there appeared a number of more or less contemporaneous Epi-Palaeolithic and early Mesolithic cultures. This mainly took place in the steppe zone across the northern Black Sea region. Each was somewhat limited in terms of territory (perhaps the first time such varied localisation had appeared), but each used similar chipped-stone forms of industry, and each emerged by transforming local Epigravettian complexes.

In the Caucasus mountain range the Chokh culture emerged on the western side of the Caspian Sea, largely in today's Georgia and Azerbaijan. Some have placed it under the rather questionable umbrella of the Trialetian tradition, although this has not received universal acceptance. The Trialetian counted the Near East's Baradostian culture as a forebear, and the Levant's Natufian and Pre-Pottery Neolithic A cultures as contemporaries, even while the Epigravettian may also have played a part in influencing it.

In the past, archaeological cultures were usually identified not on the basis of clearly defined typological characteristics, but often by intuition. In this way, most of the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic cultures of the Caucasus were originally identified: the Black Sea, Chokh, Gubs, Imereti, and Trialetian (the Kobuleti is not part of this group).

Initially, the Chokh culture was perceived as being mainly Late Palaeolithic. Four of the lower six layers from the Chokh site were incorrectly dated in 1964 to the Upper Palaeolithic. Almost thirty years later, in 1987, it became clear that the site's upper layers were Neolithic ('Layer C') and Bronze Age ('Horizon C1'), while the two lower layers of lithic discoveries (layers D and E) contained Mesolithic archaeological materials. Start and end dates for this culture remain somewhat vague though.

The most representative site for the Chokh culture is the Chokh site itself, which today is located in the central (mid-mountain) part of Dagestan (to the north-east of the Greater Caucasus). This contains deposits from the Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Bronze Age (the latter being outside the scope of this culture). Features of the primary stone-working techniques here are recorded in combinations which are only a little way short of unique.

The most peculiar Chokh features could be seen in points (arrowheads, in four variants), knives with distal retouched backs, low elongated asymmetrical triangles, and cores of archaic shapes (discoidal, similar to the Levallois technique of the ancient Mousterian culture), which occur in materials of all stages of Chokh cultural development.

A distinctive component of this culture is its trapezoidal pieces, which are always carinated, sometimes asymmetrical, with straight or slightly concave sides. Working techniques evolved gradually rather than suddenly, displaying localised improvements rather then external influences.

During the later, Neolithic, stages pottery appeared alongside brand new tools such as harvesting knives and grinders, so at this point there certainly was some external influence. Finds indicate the early commencement of house-building and the formation of new subsistence patterns, although traditional flint technology continued in use.

Mesolithic stone tools

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by ChatGPT 3.5 (base notes only), from The Magdalenian Settlement of Europe, Quaternary International Volumes 272-273 (2012), from Wine grapes were first domesticated 11,000 years ago, gene study says, Joel Achenbach (Washington Post, 2 March 2023), and from External Links: Mesolithic Settlements of the Ukrainian Steppes: migration as sociocultural response to a changing world, Olena Smyntyna (British Archaeological Reports, International Series, 2456, 93-98, January 2013, and available via ResearchGate), and Mesolithic Period (Science Direct), and Cultural resilience theory as an instrument of modelling human response to global climate change. A case study in the north-western Black Sea region: on the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary, Olena Smyntyna (Odesa I I Mechnikov National University, January 2016, and available via ResearchGate), and Early Mesolithic (Indo-European.eu), and On the Cultural Geography of the Eastern Caucasus and Southern Caspian in the Mesolithic, H A Amirkhanov (Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia, 2022;50(1):39-47), and The Palaeolithic of the Western Steppe Zone, Karol Szymczak (Reference Module in Social Sciences, 2023, available via Science Direct), and A problem of the bullet shaped cores: a global perspective, Karol Szymczak (University of Warsaw, 2002, and available via Academia.edu).)

c.11,000 BC

The wide-ranging Epigravettian culture is beginning to shrink back towards the Carpathians. In its wake it is leaving behind many localised variations along its former eastern stretches.

These are appearing especially in the steppe zone across the northern Black Sea region and into the North Caucasus, with the Danubian Iron Gates culture and the Crimean Shan Koba culture appearing early.

Chokh cave in Dagestan
The cave system at Chokh in today's Dagestan was occupied by Mesolithic and Neolithic people before they moved out onto the surrounding hills to construct a large village which was inhabited until the fall of the Soviet Union

In the Caucasus mountain range into which the Chokh culture emerges there are also influences coming from the Near East and, in this case, from the Trialetian industry in the South Caucasus which itself is being fed from the Near East. The other Trialetian cultures include the Black Sea, Gubs, and Imereti.

c.9700 BC

FeatureThe Younger Dryas has seen a temporary return to glacial conditions, although not uniformly around the world, or even in Northern Europe (and see feature link). The fading of its last stages around this time sees the gradual reintroduction of trees across the northern tundra and improvements to life for modern humans in Southern Europe.

c.9000 BC

The one grape species which is suitable for wine producing, Vitis vinifera, is first cultivated around this time by the people of two separate geographic areas. The first area is in the Caucasus region of modern Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

With conditions perfect in the South Caucasus, it was Mesolithic hunters and foragers who were amongst the very first humans to domesticate the grape

FeatureThe second is a little under a thousand kilometres away in western Asia - potentially close enough to have been inspired by the same influences (see feature link). While the grape is hermaphroditic and can reproduce itself, it takes a further three thousand years for the initial cultivation to turn into early wine production in Georgia (around 6000 BC).

c.8000 - 7100 BC

The Preboreal period sees the climate become significantly warmer (notably in the Baltics). Birch and pine forests start to spread, and elk, bears, beavers, and various species of water birds migrate into the region from the south. During this period the Trialetian fades, presumably to be absorbed in part by the Chokh and Imereti.

c.6400 BC

The Neolithic Farmers of the Criş / Körös culture have been heading northwards from the Middle Danube, following the Mureş and Körös rivers into Transylvania where they likely encounter Molodova-Kichkine foragers, possibly for the first time.

Map of Mesolithic Europe 8000 BC
Although culturally and technologically continuous with Palaeolithic cultures, Mesolithic cultures quickly developed diverse local adaptations for special environments, as this map shows (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Perhaps around this time, Neolithic influences from the Near East are also making themselves felt in the Caucasus (and in the Sursko-Dnieper culture). The upper (later) archaeological layers for the Chokh culture exhibit influences in the form of new tools and even the beginnings of house-building, although traditional Mesolithic tool-making continues. Dates for the nearby Imereti are much less certain.

c.6000 BC

Having already adopted some of the tools of the Neolithic Farmer Pre-Pottery Neolithic B or M'lefaatian cultures in the Near East, the people of the Eastern European Chokh culture now fully embrace farming, which sees their culture being succeeded by that of the Shulaveri-Shomu.

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