History Files

European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Kobuleti Culture (Mesolithic) (South Caucasus)
c.9700 - 6500? 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 major 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 the territory it encompassed (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.

The Dryas III-Preboreal period in the north-western Black Sea region was characterised by aridisation - a general drying out and a resultant decrease in plant life. The type site for the Kobuleti culture, the village of the same name, lies in the autonomous republic of Adjara. This district is in south-western Georgia, at the boundary with the foothills, fifteen kilometres from the Black Sea shoreline in the South Caucasus region. The Kintrishi river flows along the southern part of the plain on which the village sits.

The climate was temperate at this time, with coniferous trees being widespread, including fir, spruce, and pine. The site's inhabitants had selected a strategically convenient location for their settlement. Fieldwork in the 1970s and 1980s in the village revealed more than thirty thousand artefacts which at the time were associated with the early Neolithic period. However, more recent fieldwork demonstrated that the site's cultural layers actually belonged to the Early Holocene.

The stone industry here has indicated the use of blank removal. Conic and bullet shaped cores were used to form bladelets and microblades. The complex of flint and obsidian tools consists of numerous retouched blades, bladelets, and microblades, along with burins and chisels. Included is a series of bladelets and microblades with abrupt retouching. Generally speaking, the typology here indicates the use of the site as a temporary hunting camp but over a very long period of time, up to two thousand years.

So far there exists only one absolute date for the Kobuleti ('Layer 2' from 'Pit 7'), which sits at about 6670 BC. The fact should be underlined that, in the many sites in the area including stratified ones for which datable material can be extracted, materials often represent two, and often more than two, of the local archaeological cultures.

This area played an important role in the development of Neolithic practices in Eastern Europe. It was a transit region through which were transmitted Neolithic innovations from the Near East. This view is supported through a large number of early Holocene sites which have been studied relatively recently, and which are located within the borders of Armenia and Georgia.

There occurred a process of migration into the Caucasus from ancient Anatolia, modern Iran, and ancient Mesopotamia, long before the development of Neolithic culture. This served to establish routes through which could follow later developments, not only once but frequently. Excavations of the Kobuleti site have determined that it was involved in one of these instances, since materials here reflect an undoubted connection with the migration of elements of the early M'lefaatian population of the Near East's Pre-Pottery Neolithic A culture.

The emergence of the Kobuleti comes as something of a surprise. The culture appears in a fully completed form at the beginning of the Holocene, with preceding cultural development in western Georgia showing no signs of its advent.

The development of the pressing technique was an innovative feature which was not characteristic of any of the previous archaeological cultures in the Caucasus - therefore it is likely to have been transported there by people of the M'lefaatian. They did not bring with them the animal husbandry of the Near East, however. This only appeared amongst remaining M'lefaatian Near East populations in the ninth millennium BC.

The only local archaeological culture which could theoretically have acted as a precursor to the Kobuleti was the Epigravettian, which disappeared in the western Caucasus prior to the advent of the Kobuleti. Even if some part of the Epigravettian population remained and were involved, the huge number of innovative features cannot be explained by this.

The same 'new' technique later spread into Ukraine and Moldova where it formed part of the Kukrek culture. Later, the carriers of this technology became the founders of Neolithic culture within the South Caucasus and southern areas of Eastern Europe.

Mesolithic stone tools

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Settlement of the European North: Possible Linguistic Implications, Christian Carpelan, from The Magdalenian Settlement of Europe, Quaternary International Volumes 272-273 (2012), and from External Links: The Palaeolithic of the Western Steppe Zone, Karol Szymczak (Reference Module in Social Sciences, 2023, available via Science Direct), and Kobuleti site: The Evidence of Early Holocene Occupation in Western Georgia, Guram Chkhatarashvili & Valery Manko (Documenta Praehistorica, No 47, 28-35, and available via ResearchGate).

c.9700 BC

The Mesolithic Kobuleti culture emerges in what is now south-western Georgia. Early on it is influenced by a process of migration from the Near East by the people of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A culture's M'lefaatian industry.

The influence is not especially strong, as the start of the Kobuleti is not accompanied by the commencement of cattle breeding and agriculture. That only begins even with the M'lefaat people themselves in the ninth millennium BC. But it does seem likely that it is the M'lefaat people themselves who introduce the specific ideas which underlie the culture.

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)

Based on the use of conical and bullet-shaped cores, a combination of types can be observed in terms of truncated blades and bladelets with abrupt-retouched edges. Other types of tools (burins, scrapers, and notch tools) are also common within the Kobuleti. It is worth noting that burins with bilateral forms are similar in both cultures.

In addition, the early M'lefaatian sites are undoubtedly older than those of the Kobuleti since almost all of the listed sites are dated to the late Pleistocene.

This migration is the first step in the spread of pressing flaking techniques in the South Caucasus and southern areas of Eastern Europe (specifically Crimea, the Ukrainian steppe, and Moldova). It predates animal domestication amongst the M'lefaatian people as this is not brought with the early arrivals in the Caucasus.

Kobuleti village in Georgia
The type site for the Kobuleti culture is the village of the same name which lies in the autonomous republic of Adjara, in south-western Georgia

c.6670 BC

So far there exists only one absolute date for the Kobuleti, and that comes from 'Layer 2', 'Pit 7' which sits around this date (plus or minus a century). This as well as other localised Mesolithic cultures often use the same sites over a span of millennia, making firm identification sometimes difficult.

c.6500 BC

The later stages of the regionally innovative Eastern European Kobuleti culture have been edging towards Neolithic forager practices, while also having provided an important influence for the Kukrek culture.

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