Anglo-Georgian Expedition to Nokalakevi (AGEN)

This season is the sixteenth of excavation by the Anglo-Georgian expedition at the multi-period site of Nokalakevi, the longest running international collaboration in Georgian archaeology. Working closely with colleagues from the Georgian National Museum and the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia an international team, primarily from the University of Winchester, has been in Nokalakevi since the 1st July.

Those with an interest in our work here can read more in our 2014 BAR publication of the first ten years’ results, and we are now in the process of writing our 2011-15 publication. In brief, however, the first significant settlement at Nokalakevi dates to the 8th/7th centuries BC from which period we have recovered double-headed zoomorphic figurines. The site was more or less continually occupied from then, with further peaks of activity in the 6th-5th centuries BC, and in the 4th-1st centuries BC. The distinctive features that survive at Nokalakevi today are the stunning fortifications dating to the time of the Laz kings and their Byzantine allies in the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries AD, culminating in the enormous refortification of the eastern gate under Justinian as he prepared for war with Persia.

This year, with a team including volunteers from Georgia, Britain, America and Nor way, we have worked in three trenches in Nokalakevi.

Trench A was located next to the eastern gate, and has provided evidence of the complete span of occupation here. Last week, after 16 seasons and 200 students, we reached the underlying natural deposit. Unlike the natural clay in Trenches B and C, in Trench A it was the bottom of a palaeochannel with rolled riverstones. The presence of a palaeochannel – and the visible movement of some groundwater through it even today – goes a considerable way to explain the difficulties we have experienced in recent years with water logging and standing water in the trench. The fragments of double-headed zoomorphic figurines recovered from Trench A, without any associated structures, might indicate deliberate deposition all practice at the edge of an area that would most likely have been marshy in the 8th/7th centuries BC.

Work has continued in Trench E when the weather allowed – this area too suffers with issues of waterlogging – and we have also opened five trenches at a new site 11 miles to the east, where evidence from test-pitting last year strongly supports the presence of a ‘lost’ Byzantine fort briefly held by the Persians during a military incursion into west Georgia and described by both Agathias and Procopius.

Having finished Trench C last year, we opened Trench F at the start of this season. Located across the top of the old Trench B the new area was designed to fully expose a Hellenistic structure which had been partially revealed in 2004 and 2005. Trench F successfully located the southwest corner of this structure, however we will need to extend it to the east and north next season in order to reveal the entirety of what now appears to be a very complicated structure, or structures.

After a month of hard work, spells of very bad weather and spells of very hot weather, today is the last day of the 2016 season. Tomorrow we pack up and head for Tbilisi for a brief stay before we fly home. We will all be sad to leave Nokalakevi, but we are already making plans for our return in 2017.