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Remarkable Discovery

Remarkable Discovery

Since 1995 the Mtsketa institute of Archaeology of the Georgian Academy of Sciences has been functioning in the ancient capital of Georgia, Mtskheta. The Institute was set up on the basis of the permanent archeological expeditions of Mtskheta. The Academy of Sciences of Georgia and the Georgian culture of the old capital, its town-planning principles and the role and Georgia a special subject of research. The work of this archaeological this archeological institution has considerably enriched treasury of Georgian material and spiritual culture. 

Detail of the writing deviceThe Georgian society has perhaps been indulged by archaeological findings but the importance of this particular discovery in Mtskheta goes beyond the history of Georgia. The site of the discovery was immediately next to the eastern facade of the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. In the spring of 2001, with the blessing and support of the Georgian Patriarch Ilia II, the decision was made to examine the foundation of the cathedral and determine the degree of its subsidence. A tomb, built of sandstone slabs became apparent during digging a trench for this purpose. It turned out that a female of about 50 was buried in this tomb, aligned from west to east. Each of the items buried in the tomb deserves special notice, but we will only write about one of them and just make passing reference to the others.
They include: a golden ring-seal with a sardion intaglio depicting a woman's profile wearing a Phrygian headdress. Its Greek inscription reveals a sovereign queen. There are also high relief cameos with the images of a man and a child, brilliant elliptic specimens of the Antique period. Among the findings were also jade vessels for cosmetics with golden lids, golden chains, golden pendants, an intaglio with the image of Zeus and much more. But the most significant of these artifacts is an item counted as a unique discovery - the pencil-case. 

The case is made of gilded silver adorned with golden details and embossed with relief. It was meant for silver “stylos" (pens and pencils in our terminology) and a golden ink-pot. The stylos in a specially shaped plate, whereas the golden ink was placed in a special adorned with engravings, alto-relieves are portrait images, all of them representing actual persons. This is confirmed by the inscriptions over their heads: Menander, SV-III centuries B.C., Greek comic dramatist; Homer, Greek epic poet of the VIII century B.C. and Demosthenes, IV century B.C., Athenian statesman and orator. The inscriptions are in Greek, as on the golden plate fixed over these images. This inscription is filigree, as is the embellishment of plants with slightly geometric shapes. “Belonging to the Kings Ustamos and Evgenios” are the words that can be read on the plate, signifying that this Instrument belonged to these two persons and confirming the existence of one more king of ancient Georgia. The second side of the plate is decorated with the images of Muses in three rows from the top to the bottom. One can see the relevant inscriptions and attributes that have been canonized for each Muse by ancient iconography. These are Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichone, Erato, Polyhymnia, Urania and Calliope. Academician Tinatin Kaukhchishvili has used a great deal of historical materia! to be able to date these findings aDetails of the pencil cases belonging to the li-ltf centuries.

Some of the items found in the tomb may point to a somewhat later date, e.g. the turn of the III - IV centuries. This does not mean, however, that the case should also be attributed to the same date, because it is quite natural that the instruments that at the same time represent the insignia of a grandee are passed from generation to generation and later can be buried with the deceased. The exquisite plasticity of the images (which undoubtedly echo the Hellenic age) and refined Greek proportions of the muses also argue for this point of view. As back as 1938, an epitaph was found in the area of Greater Mtskheta in the Samtavro valley.

It made reference to the chief painter and architect of Mtskheta, Avrelios Akolis. This name is also mentioned on a stone stele discovered in Mtskheta's Antioch Cathedral four years ago. Here, Avrelios Akofis Is referred to in connection with a concrete construction. The position of an chief painter points only to the Georgian reality as this post was introduced In the capital of ancient Georgia (elsewhere it appears only from the VIII century). It would be quite logical to assume that besides the chief painter there should have been other “chiefs” and that this writing device belonged to one of them, namely the Mtsignobartukhutsesi (the chief scribe) of the Kartli Kingdom.

Gold inkstandArchaeologists have discovered a number of items related to writing. Many of them (ink-pots and stylos) are found in Mtskheta, like in Pompeii, the ancient Roman city which buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Items discovered in Pompeii, however, are predominantly made of bronze or iron, although ivory stylos and other materials are also encountered.

What is most important in the Mtskheta discovery is that the composition and adornment of the artifacts cannot be classified as belonging to specimens of mass production (in fact, objects like the one in question have not been discovered anywhere else in the world). It appears to have been made to order, reflecting the special requirement of the customer to contain images of the great thinkers of antiquity (Homer, Demosthenes and Menander). The most distinguished men of letters and art of that time and their contribution to the development of thought were well known in ancient Georgia.

This discovery echoes another very distant fact, which was so vividly described by Leonti Mroveli when he related to us the history of the King Parnavaz: “... And Parnavaz, of the Kartlos tribe, was the first king of Kartli. He expanded the Georgian language and no language other than Georgian was spoken within Kartli and this created Georgian literacy”. It is true that there are differences of opinion with regard to this extract from Kartlis Tskhovreba (The Life of Kartli). Nobody would deny, however, that the reformer king considered literacy and learning in general as the cornerstone of the process of nation building.

Pencil case with MusesThis discovery of the Mtskheta Institute of Archaeology is a cogent evidence of a highly developed ancient Georgian society, its culture and level of literacy. The Georgian archaeology, together with the whole of Georgia, have entered the XXI century with this brilliant discovery.


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