Georgia: Linking Past and Future
Third Eeast-West Highway Improvemnet Project
June 19, 2013
Georgian archaeologists stumbled across a large Bronze Age burial site containing a hundred graves with skeletons, pots, spearheads and bracelets. As they painstakingly uncovered these four treasures, new light was shed on the Mtkvari-Araks culture, which prospered in Central Georgia four thousand years ago.
"Today's find, for instance, was unprecedented. As we opened up a collective river stone burial mound, we found a metal band. Discovery of a metal band is not in itself unusual for the Mtkvari-Araks culture, however when we took it out, it was covered with white rust. Only one metal can be covered with white rust and it is lead. No one had ever found a lead artifact in this culture," says Iulon Gagoshidze, one of the leaders of the archaeological expedition.
It is our obligation, when something of this importance is discovered within the scope of infrastructure projects to ask the respective authority to study the discovery.
It is likely no one would have found the unique bracelet without the construction of the East-West Highway. But as road crews prepared to build the Agara to Ruisi stretch of this ancient artery, once part of the Silk Road, surveys uncovered the graveyard. Construction was put on hold while graves were dug up, and bones and artifacts documented and moved.
"It is our obligation, when something of this importance is discovered within the scope of infrastructure projects to ask the respective authority to study the discovery, especially, when it relates to the ancient history of our country. Infrastructure development, from this point of view, is very important for a country, as it allows to study such a case, and continue with the halted construction works afterwards," said David Narmania, Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure.
Unearthing, studying and storing discoveries is an imperative for the Georgian government and the World Bank, which has been financing work on the East-West Highway for more than seven years. A series of investments aim to upgrade the E60 Highway, Georgia's key transport corridor, important for transit flows connecting European, American, African and Mediterranean trade with Caucasian and Central Asian regions. The latest investment increases World Bank support to Georgia's roads sector, totaling US$292 million since 2006.
And as Georgians pave a better future through easier, cheaper and safer highway travel, digging up archaeological sites strengthens their ties to the past. The cost of road construction includes funds for archaeological work—and helps to support university departments that might otherwise not be able to afford a big excavation in a short time frame.
"Whenever large-scale projects are being implemented, a preliminary archaeological expertise is always included in the process. However, the financial assistance provided by World Bank is always much bigger, because of the scale and volume of their construction work," says Prof. Vakhtang Licheli,Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology at Tbilisi State University, who is heading the excavation works.
This is the second large dig undertaken with World Bank support. The first was a massive pagan religious site, the Dedoplis Mindori temple complex, once the main place of worship for Georgian kings 1 BC and 1 AD. So, a new find was not completely unexpected.
"The question was whether we were expecting to find so many?! Frankly, I had not wondered about the quantity beforehand, but we knew that we would find burial sites. It has certainly exceeded our expectations, because we have already found 100 sepultures. Excavation of 100 sepultures within a month – this is a lot for an archaeologist," says Gagoshidze.
The World Bank supports the Georgian government to ensure care is taken of the cultural heritage discovered so that it can be shared for Georgians today and in the future. Artifacts from the first discovery are on exhibit at the Georgia Arts and Crafts Center, and once they are catalogued and studied, objects from the most recent find will be shown to the public, too.
As the highway project builds a better road and protects Georgia's heritage, is it also strengthening the capacity of the roads department and relevant government entities to plan and manage the road network while improving road safety, and indirectly that of the Georgian academics who reflect on the country's rich history.
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