Archaeological evidence has shown that Vani was in existence from at least the 8th century BC. The twenty-eight graves discovered thus far are from a later period, about 450-250 BC, when Vani was at the height of its prosperity. In the richest of these graves, a vast array of objects was buried with the deceased - from large quantities of locally produced gold jewellery to exotic imports from both western and eastern neighbours.
Of the twenty-eight graves excavated to date, only four (Graves 6, 7, 8 and 11), date to the earliest period (450-350 BC). All four were surrounded by habitation layers. It seems therefore that the dead were buried within or in the vicinity of their homes (a practice held in common with their Near Eastern neighbours). Unlike in the Greek world, where the deceased were buried outside the city limits.
The graves themselves were cut into the bedrock and covered with mounds of pebbles. The discovery of iron nails in some graves has raised the possibility that some sort of wooden constructions were set into the pits, serving as containers for the remains. Both single and group burials have been discovered.
About 400-350 BC
Grave 6 was excavated in 1961 and found to contain the body of a young woman between twenty and thirty years old. She was buried with precious gold jewellery and a rich array of grave goods. Many of these highlight Vani’s interactions with Greece and the Near East, including glassware which was probably made on the island of Rhodes and a pectoral of Persian origin, which had been modified later in Colchis. In contrast, the grave contained distinctively Colchian jewellery in the form of so-called temple ornaments (decorative elements which were suspended from a diadem in such a way that they fell on either side of the wearer’s head, next to the temples). The temple ornaments in this grave are decorated with figures of horsemen.
This is the only grave in this exhibition that shows no trace of secondary burials.
About 330-300 BC
The objects found in this tomb, including armour, suggest that it belonged to a warrior. It was found during excavations on the central terrace at Vani in 1969.
The burial consisted of a rectangular pit with a north-south orientation, cut into bedrock and overlaid by a small stone mound. The grave owner lay in the centre while two servants and a dog, who seem to have been sacrificed, lay on a raised platform along the southern wall. There had originally been a wooden structure of some sort inside the grave, which had disintegrated in the damp soil.
The main pit contained fifty-three spearheads and two daggers, as well as an iron shield and arrowheads made of bronze and iron. Near the main body there were two deliberately arranged groups of arrowheads, which may originally have been in a wooden or leather arrow case; a fragment of sheet bronze with repoussé decoration may be part of this.
The dead warrior wore bronze leg armour and a variety of personal adornments made of silver and gold, including a bracelet with an inscription in Greek that reads Δεδατος (Dedatos), which may have been his name. Near his head lay a single openwork temple ornament.
Several objects found in the burial had been imported into Colchis, where there is evidence of increased Greek influence by this period. The inclusion of a coin found by the warrior’s mouth, which was probably placed there to enable him to pay Charon, the ferryman of Greek mythology, to allow him to cross over to the underworld.
About 460-430 BC
This tomb was found on the central terrace at Vani and excavated in 1969. It consisted of a rectangular pit, cut into the bedrock and covered over with a mound of pebbles. A series of iron nails found there suggests that there was originally some kind of wooden structure inside. Four skeletons were found in the grave. The main tomb owner was a woman and she can be identified by the richness of the jewellery and other adornments she wore. The skeleton of a horse was found outside the wooden structure.
The woman’s body was adorned with gold and silver jewellery and her garments had also been decorated with valuable ornaments. A shroud, decorated with gold bosses, lay over her body and a large amount of silver jewellery had been placed by her right side. A striking number of valuable imported objects were placed in the grave around her head, including several from Attica (Greece) and others showing influence of Persian art. These demonstrate the extent of Vani’s contact with the world beyond the Black Sea at this time and reflect a taste for luxury wares imported from the West.
The other three skeletons are thought to be the remains of servants. Although they also wore gold jewellery, there were far less richly adorned than the main tomb owner.
About 350-300 BC
Grave 24, excavated in 2004, was situated near a sanctuary on the eastern part of the upper terrace. It was in the form of a rectangular pit, covered by a pebble mound, with a platform of rough sandstone running along the pit’s south wall. The presence of iron nails indicates the existence of some kind of wooden structure, now rotted away. There had been some damage to the grave in the past caused by the cutting of a channel and the construction of a wall in the northeast corner.
The grave seems to have contained five individuals and a horse. The main tomb owner lay in the middle of the grave. He or she wore a great quantity of gold jewellery, a robe covered with gold appliqués and a shroud decorated with brightly colour glass and gold beads, as well as an elaborate headdress, consisting of an openwork decorative element, eight appliqués in the form of stylized griffins, a forehead band and other ornaments. A silver coin lay close to the head.
The tomb owner also wore at least three necklaces and numerous pendants, and his or her body seems to have worn a garment decorated with faience and jet beads. Several rings, made of gold, silver and iron were found near the right wrist. The dead person’s clothing was also lavishly embellished with gold elements, including appliqués in the shapes of eagles and ducks, and a large circular gold brooch.
The remaining four bodies also wore jewellery, but it was made of silver, iron, bronze, glass, faience and carnelian rather than gold.