Cover image: Aerial view of excavations at Nokalakevi © National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia
What’s your connection to Georgia?
I have been co-directing archaeological work at Nokalakevi, as part of a wonderful collaborative team, for almost 20 years. My work in Georgia began, completely by chance, when I worked with Nick Armour at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit in autumn 2001. He had just returned from Nokalakevi with Ian Colvin and a handful of Cambridge students after the inaugural season of the Anglo-Georgian Expedition, and could talk about little else. It sounded amazing and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get involved. I travelled to Georgia in 2002 expecting it to be a fun and exciting busman’s holiday, supervising students in a new trench at Nokalakevi before starting my PhD at Southampton. I was simply unprepared for the impact that Georgia was to have on me. Evidence of its deep, proud, but not always easy, history seems to be in every corner of its stunning landscape, written across the Colchian plain, along the towering Caucasus mountains, and in the DNA of its people. Back then Georgia was only just recovering from the first difficult years of independence. The dig house bore the scars of automatic weapon fire, and we would occasionally hear gunfire and explosions. The local governor provided armed security to ensure our safety. But actually those aren’t the aspects that made the greatest impact, it was the immersion in Georgian culture. Its food, while of course demonstrating some external influence, is uniquely and undeniably Georgian; and its wine, the grapes and the vines that bear them, seem to have an unbreakable, sacred bond with every Georgian. There is something magical about a country that wears its heritage so openly, and in which intangible cultural heritage is so vibrant and alive, but the warmth and hospitality of the Georgian people also had a profound impact on me.
How has the ‘Anglo-Georgian Expedition to Nokalakevi’ lasted so long?
There are certain magic ingredients that give some field projects longevity. One is undoubtedly that we operate a funding model that gives us independence from the whims of funding bodies, so the project lifespan is not determined by the usual three year grant cycles. Our longevity is determined by the quality and scale of the archaeology at the site, not by the subjectivity of committee decisions. The other factor is that our expedition is genuinely underpinned by friendships. It’s not something that you can plan for, but from the point at which Ian Colvin and Davit Lomitashvili first discussed the idea of an Anglo-Georgian Expedition to Nokalakevi, it has gone from strength to strength because of mutual respect, shared ideals, and friendship. Today, as well as Ian and Davit, I am fortunate to work alongside Nikoloz Murgulia, Besik Lortkipanidze, Nino Kebuladze and many others who are friends as much as they are colleagues.
What was the rationale for establishing a Georgian Archaeological Monographs series?
Until the pandemic impacted on our (and everyone’s!) plans, we had been working towards publication of our second expedition monograph, reporting on excavations at Nokalakevi from 2011-2020 and discussing some of the key research themes from our work. Of course our 2020 field season was impacted, along with the opportunity to meet in person and talk through the chapters. In the meantime I had also been thinking about finding a route for publishing the proceedings of a session on the archaeology of the region that I’m co-organising for September’s EAA conference, and it occurred to me that having a dedicated monograph series would make the perfect home for these publications, and for all those who are working on the archaeology of the region at various career stages, alongside the opportunity to provide researchers from the South Caucasus the opportunity to publish in a western language. One of the challenges of writing up research on Georgian archaeology can be the accessibility of source material if you don’t read Georgian or Russian. I have been incredibly fortunate to work collaboratively with Georgian specialists who provide English translations of relevant excerpts of Georgian scholarly work and references, and of course also bring their expert knowledge of Georgian academic traditions and the theoretical frameworks that this work inhabits. Generally, however, western academics are only able to access a small percentage of the published work on any given site, and without much of the supporting context. I want this series to start bridging this divide.
It seems to me that the South Caucasus is sometimes treated as rather liminal by western archaeologists – a place where the more studied empires and civilisations enact change, or leave evidence of their economic and military activities, but perhaps not an area deserving of study in its own right. Its higher profile in the west today probably owes as much to conflict in Syria and Crimea, which has forced a range of international projects to relocate to more favourable locations, as it does to greater awareness. The archaeology of the South Caucasus, however, is more than deserving of its own spotlight and I really hope that this monograph series can provide a stage.
Dr Paul Everill, University of Winchester