Dzudzuana: An Upper Palaeolithic Cave Site in the Caucasus Foothills (Georgia)

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Upper Palaeolithic occupations have been reported from caves and rockshelters in the western Caucasus foothills since the late nineteenth century (Zamiamin 1957; Berdzenishvili 1972; Tushabramashvili & Vekua 1982; Bader 1984; Tushabramishvili 1984; Liubin 1989; Meshveliani et al. 2004). The earliest phase of the Upper Palaeolithic sequence was believed to be characterised by the lingering presence of Mousterian tools together with the appearance of distinct Upper Palaeolithic types such as endscrapers, burins and retouched blades. This kind of assemblage was thought to represent the cultural transition from the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic. The prevailing historical-evolutionary concept was that such transition was a normative process with ancestral Middle Palaeolithic human groups evolving unto those of the Upper Palaeolithic (but see Cohen & Stepanchuk 1999).


Since 1996 a joint team of Georgian, American and Israeli researchers has been involved in systematic excavations of two Caucasian sites: Ortvale Klde Rockshelter (Tushabramishvili et al. 1999; Adler & Tushabramishvili 2004, Adler et al. 2006a) and Dzudzuana Cave (Meshveliani et al. 1999, 2004). These sites lie 5km apart at about 560m asl in the Chiatura region, in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains (Figure 1). Ortvale Klde contains a sequence of Middle Palaeolithic layers capped by several Upper Palaeolithic occurrences and is fully dated by TL, ESR, and radiocarbon readings (Adler et al. 2008 and references therein).

Here we present an account of the excavated sequence at Dzudzuana, together with its rich assemblages (summarised in Table 1). Details of the sediments and materials are marshalled in an online open access supplementary file, to which reference should be made (


Excavations in Dzdudzuana Cave have been conducted in two campaigns. The first in 1966-75 was directed by D. Tushabramishvili, and covered an area of c. 40[m.sup.2] near the cave entrance which was excavated down to bedrock (Figure 2). The excavations were carried out in units 0.1m deep in 1[m.sup.2] squares, and artefacts were recovered by hand, without wet-sieving. The stratification was subdivided into two major units: Layer I--the Upper Eneolithic and Layer II--the Upper Palaeolithic deposits (Liubin 1989). Tushabramishvili further subdivided Layer II into eight sub-layers designated as II-1 to II-8. All except II-8, a sterile deposit immediately above bedrock, contained artefacts and bones.

A second campaign took place in 1996-2008 (Figures 2 & 3) exposing a similar sequence of Upper Palaeolithic units capped by an Eneolithic one, dated by 36 radiocarbon readings (Table 2). Two areas were excavated: the first, an extension of Tushabramishvili's excavations near the entrance of the cave (squares F-I 9-7 and J-K 12-11), which we call hereafter the 'lower area' (LoAr in Table 2, east), the second an 'upper area' comprising squares G-H 24-21, 19-15 (UpAr in Table 2, west). The total excavated surface was c. 24[m.sup.2]. In the lower area (Figure 3, east), the depth of excavated deposits was 4.5m while in the upper area (Figure 3, west) it was 3.25m. The basic units of excavation were 50mm-thick quadrants of 0.5 x 0.5m, within a 1 x 1m grid. The excavated deposits were wet-sieved, dried and later hand-picked in order to retrieve the smallest archaeological components (lithics, bones, etc.).

On the basis of geoarchaeological observations, we divided the sequence in the lower area into four main stratigraphic units (A-D) (Figure 3). In the upper area we uncovered only part of the sequence, namely Units D and C with rare residues of B at the top. As the archaeological sequence was exposed to its full depth only in squares G-H 18-19, the sample representing the upper area in the present account is the one derived from those squares. …