I was accepted to present the preliminary results of my doctoral research at the 11th Annual Pitt Rivers Young Archaeologists Conference. This conference is hosted by the Tbilisi State University and is held annually in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vardzia in the South Caucasus. Vardzia is a monastery formed of rock-cut caves stretching along the mountain face that was first constructed in the 11th century under King Giorgi III.
The monastery was greatly patroned by Giorgi’s daughter and heir, Tamar the Great, who used the defensible site as a military base to defend Georgia from southern invaders. The monastery has over 200 caves that make up the site. The conference was held in one of the larger caves in the Vardzia monastery, accessible after an invigorating climb up a mountain!
It was the ideal setting to learn about the diverse work being carried out by other young researchers in archaeology. The low-tech setting made us newcomers a bit nervous, but everything went smoothly!
The three-day conference had a range of topics spanning Mesolithic burial practices in the Urals, Babylonian Palace architecture, Sassanian silverware from Iberia, stone tools from prehistoric copper mining sites in the eastern Alps, life and death in the Dariali Gorge on Georgia’s Northern border, and my own topic of isotopic dietary reconstruction.
Georgia is the birthplace of winemaking, dating back at least 8,000 years. The site of the earliest winemaking was not far from Vardzia, and traditional Kvervi wine jars could still be seen sunken into the floor surfaces of some of the caves, which would have been produced from the monastery’s vineyards. Our hotel, Valodia’s Cottage, even had their own vineyards and produced the traditional ‘amber’ wine, which we were lucky enough to sample.
All too soon it seemed we were heading back to Tbilisi, but not before we stopped at some other museums and sites of historical importance showcasing Georgia’s rich and diverse history!
It was impossible not to fall in love with the beautiful Georgian landscape, the food, the people, their vibrant cities, and their fascinating history (Tamar the Great was given the title of King and she ruled in her own right!). I cannot wait to make my way back to Georgia, and hopefully reconnect with all the wonderful colleagues I met at the 12th Annuals Young Archaeologists Conference! Gaumarjos!