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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Trialetian Industry (Mesolithic) (South Caucasus)
c.11,000 - 7600 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 a group of similar cultures emerged around the same time. Perhaps influenced in part by the Epigravettian, they were also more heavily influenced from the Near East. The Baradostian culture was a forebear, while the Levant's Natufian and Pre-Pottery Neolithic A cultures were contemporaries.

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 latter largely in eastern Georgia, while the western Georgian Kobuleti is not included in this group).

The Trialetian is probably the best known of these, although its dating is uncertain. Often the start is given as about 10,500 BC or 11,000 BC, but an alternative of 14,000 BC has also been posited. However, it is not fully supported as a culture in its own right, and a competing claim for a Trialeti culture at a different key site in the same region further muddied the waters.

Instead the term 'Trialetian' has more often been used as an umbrella for all five of these South Caucasus cultures. However, even that umbrella usage is not particularly supported in the twenty-first century, so the Trialetian is included here only as a placeholder or a very localised culture.

This and the other aforementioned South Caucasus cultures witnessed Upper Palaeolithic foragers enter the Mesolithic, where they were met by the arrival from the south of a farming economy which gradually took hold. Collectively these cultures covered the north-eastern Pontic area, extending to the northern foreland steppe, and covering the Trans-Caspian region, eastern Anatolia, and the Iranian plateau.

Both Kotias Klde, a karstik cave above the River Kvirila in western Georgia, and the Darkvety rock shelter have been assigned to the Trialetian tradition. The lithic industry in Kotias Klde is relatively homogeneous both in terms of types and technology, with comparable industries being found in distant southern territories, in particular at Ali Tepe in the Elbruz region of Iran, and the proto-Neolithic site of Hallan Çemi in south-eastern Anatolia, part of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A culture.

While a chronology is difficult to establish for the Trialetian, it seems that comparable lithic elements appear first at Ali Tepe (roughly between 10,500-8870 BC), and then slightly later at Hallan Çemi (roughly 8600-7600 BC).

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 Aea 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), and Caucasus Mesolithic (Indo-Europeans and Uralic Peoples).)

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.

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)

In the Caucasus mountain range, the archaeological label of Trialetian industry supposedly covers several newly-emergent cultures here, with these being the Black Sea, Chokh, Gubs, Imereti, and Trialetian. As well as potential Epigravettian influences, this area is also being influenced from the Near East's Natufian and Pre-Pottery Neolithic A cultures.

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.

North American large mammals
The Younger Dryas cold spell hit North America hard, just when things were starting to warm up at the end of the ice age - not only did many of the large mammals die out but so did the Clovis culture (click or tap on image to view full sized)

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.

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).

Trialetian body from the Kotias Klde rockshelter
DNA was extracted from the molar teeth of this skeleton, dating from almost 8000 BC, and found in the Kotias Klde rock shelter in western Georgia

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.

c.7600 BC

With the tools of the Neolithic Farmer cultures of the Near East now heavily infiltrating the South Caucasus, the localised culture of the Eastern European Trialetian now fades out, presumably in favour of others such as the Chokh and Imereti.

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