Archaeological evidence suggests that Vani was most founded in about the 8th century BC and had become an administrative capital by the 4th century BC. However, in the 3rd century its inhabitants moved outside the city walls and Vani seems to have been transformed into a sanctuary city. This dramatic change in character is attested by the total absence of residential buildings from this period and by the construction of several new cult complexes and sanctuaries.
Distinct local ritual practices are suggested during this later period as can bee seen from the four bronze and iron figurines displayed in the exhibition. These were discovered on the city’s upper terrace and were all buried in or near a sanctuary; this placement may well indicate a religious or funerary function for the figurines. The example illustrated here was placed between two terracotta tiles that were buried in a pit cut into the bedrock, thus mimicking contemporary human burials.
The figurine has a head with disproportionately large features, a low sloping brow, and an elongated torso with bowed arms and stiffly rendered legs. Most striking is its lavish gold jewellery, some of which reflects types worn by those buried at Vani. In addition to gold earrings, a torque (neck ring), and bracelets, five gold rosettes appear to have been strung around the figurine’s head and several pendants were found in its chest area.
The form and detail of their jewellery date the four figurines to the 3rd century BC. Their precise function, surely of local religious nature, still remains a subject of discussion. However, it is worth noting that the intriguing practice of burying such figurines in a ritualistic manner appears to be specific to Vani during its phase as a sanctuary city.