Dzudzuana Cave, 30,000 Year Old Flax in Georgia

An outside view of the Dzudzuana cave in Georgia
An exterior view of Dzudzuana cave in Georgia. Image © Science/AAAS

Dzudzuana Cave is a rock shelter with archaeological evidence of several human occupations dated to the Upper Paleolithic period, located in the western part of the Republic of Georgia, five kilometers east of the similarly dated Ortvale Klde rock shelter. Dzudzuana cave is a large karst formation cave, with the opening some 1800 feet (560 meters) above modern sea level and 40 ft (12 m) above the current channel of the Nekressi River.

Chronology

The site was also occupied during the early Bronze Age and Chalcolithic periods, but the most substantial, occupations are dated to the Upper Paleolithic, including 12 ft (3.5 m) thick layer dated between 24,000 and 32,000 radiocarbon years before the present (RCYBP), which converts to 31,000–36,000 calendar years ago cal BP). The site contains stone tools and animal bones similar to those found at the Early Upper Paleolithic occupations of Ortvale Klde, also in Georgia.

  • Unit A: ~5,000–6,300 RCYBP, 6000 cal BP, Neolithic, 30 flax fibers, five dyed
  • Unit B: ~11,000–13,000 RCYBP, 16,500–13,200 cal BP: Terminal Paleolithic, blades and bladelets from bi-polar cores; 48 flax fibers, three dyed (one black, two turquoise)
  • Unit C: ~19,000–23,000 RCYBP, 27,000–24,000 cal BP: Upper Paleolithic, dominated by blades and bladelets, microliths, flake scrapers, burins, "carinated cores"; 787 flax fibers, 18 spun, one knotted, 38 dyed (black, gray, turquoise and one pink)
  • Unit D: ~26,000–32,000 RCYBP, 34,500–32,200 cal BP: Upper Paleolithic, microliths, flake scrapers, thumbnail scrapers and double end scrapers, some bladelets, cores, endscrapers; 488 flax fibers, including 13 spun, 58 dyed (turquoise and gray to black), several exhibited cutting; some of the fibers are 200 mm long, others broken into shorter segments

    Dinner at Dzudzuana Cave

    Animal bones showing evidence of butchering (cut marks and burning) in the earliest Upper Paleolithic (UP) levels of the cave are dominated by the mountain goat known as the Caucasian tur (Capra cacausica). Other animals featured in the assemblages are steppe bison (Bison priscus, now extinct), aurochs, red deer, wild boar, wild horse, wolf, and pine marten. Later UP assemblages at the cave are dominated by steppe bison. The researchers suggest that may reflect seasonality of use: steppe bison would have inhabited the open steppe at the base of the foothills in early spring or summer, while tur spend the spring and summer in the mountains and come down to the steppes in late fall or winter. The seasonal use of tur is also seen at Ortvale Klde.

    The occupations at Dzudzuana cave were made by early modern humans, showing no evidence of Neanderthal occupations such as that seen at Ortvale Klde and other Early UP sites in the Caucasus. The site reflects additional evidence of the early and rapid dominance of EMH as they entered into regions already occupied by Neanderthals.

    Textile Use at Dzudzuana Cave

    In 2009, Georgian archaeologist Eliso Kvavadze and colleagues reported the discovery of flax (Linum usitatissimum) fibers in all levels of the Upper Paleolithic occupations, with a peak in level C.

    A few of the fibers in each of the levels were colored in hues of turquoise, pink and black to gray. One of the threads was twisted, and several had been spun. The ends of the fibers show evidence of being purposely cut. Kvavadze and colleagues surmise that this represents the production of colorful textiles for some purpose, perhaps clothing. Other elements that may be related to the production of clothing discovered at the site include tur hair and the micro-remains of skin beetles and moths.

    The fibers from Dzudzuana Cave are among the oldest evidence of the use of fiber technology, and unlike other examples, Dzudzuana cave offers details about the use of fibers unrecognized to date. The Dzudzuana Cave flax fibers have clearly been modified, cut, twisted and even dyed gray, black, turquoise and pink, most likely with locally available natural plant pigments.

    Perishable materials, including cordage, nets, wood, and textiles, have long been recognized as an important piece of hunter-gatherer technology in the Upper Paleolithic; but it is a technology that is nearly invisible to modern archaeologists because the organic materials are so rarely preserved. Some instances of cord and textile preservation include Iron Age bog bodies, the Bronze Age Ice Man, and Archaic period Windover Bog pond cemetery; but for the most part, organic fibers do not survive to the modern day.

    Purposes of Textiles

    Paleolithic textile technology included a range of plant fibers and a broad variety of basketry, hunting tools and woven materials apart from clothing. Commonly recognized fibers used for textiles include flax and wool from several different animals, but Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers might also have found useful fibers from several trees such as lime, willow, oak, elm, alder, yew, and ash, and plants including milkweed, nettle, and hemp.

    Hunter-gatherers during the Upper Paleolithic used plant fibers and cordage for a number of useful things, including clothing, basketry, footwear, and nets for traps. Types of textiles found or implicated from the evidence in Eurasian UP sites include cordage, netting, and plaited basketry and textiles with simple twined, plaited and plain woven and twilled designs. Fiber-based hunting techniques for small game included traps, snares, and nets.

    Excavation History of Dzudzuana Cave

    The site was first excavated in the mid 1960s by the Georgia State Museum under the direction of D.

    Tushabramishvili. The site was opened again in 1996, under the direction of Tengiz Meshveliani, as part of a joint Georgian, American and Israeli project who also conducted work at Ortvale Klde.

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