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Vani, Republic of Georgia*

Director: Christopher Ratté


An archaeological survey of the region around Vani in western Georgia was begun with sponsorship of the University of Michigan and the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University in 2009.

Vani is one of the most intensively studied archaeological sites in the western Georgian region of Colchis, famously the farthest shore in Greek mythology, the land of the golden fleece and home of Medea. Excavations have revealed a continuous occupation sequence extending from the 8th to the 1st centuries BCE. Especially notable are the rich and unusual graves of the Classical period (6th–4th centuries), the monumental stone architecture of the Hellenistic period (3rd–1st centuries), and the extensive evidence for interaction with the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern worlds, including not only commercial and luxury imports (Greek transport amphorae, fine bronze and silver utensils from both the Greek world and Persia) but also local production of bronze sculpture and one long Greek bronze inscription.

Half a century of scientific excavation has produced a detailed model of the history of the site and generated a rich series of hypotheses about its purpose and function in different periods. One of the more enigmatic features of Vani as currently understood is the very limited evidence for residential occupation at any time. Together with its other unusual features, this raises fundamental questions about the evolving character of both the site and the society it represents. What is the relationship between Vani and other sites in Colchis in various periods? What other sites are similar in terms of topographical situation, size, architecture, tombs, and other aspects of material culture? More locally, how extensive was the ancient settlement? Was Vani a regional population center, a sanctuary, or both? What were its regional economic and political functions?

In addition to ongoing research at Vani itself, regional survey provides one obvious approach to some of these questions, and here, too, there is a rich tradition of earlier research to build upon. Survey and excavation at a number of sites have yielded remains extending in date from the Early Bronze Age to the medieval period. Of special interest are a number of settlements and rich graves coincident with the main occupation periods at Vani.

The purpose of the regional survey project begun in 2009 is to integrate existing knowledge about Vani and its environs into the kind of technological and conceptual framework characteristic of contemporary American survey archaeology. Of particular importance is the use of GIS as an organizational and analytical tool and geophysical prospection both in the immediate environs of Vani and at regional sites. The combination of Georgian archaeological expertise and American technological, intellectual, and other resources will shed new light on the regional significance of Vani throughout antiquity.