Beginning in the early 1990s, a few hominid remains were found, but the most informative specimens are three well-preserved crania, the most recently discovered (in 2001) being almost complete (see photos). These remains (all dated to approximately 1.8 m.y.a.) are important because they are the best preserved hominids of this antiquity found anywhere outside of Africa. Moreover, they show a mixed pattern of characteristics, some quite unexpected.

In some respects the Dmanisi crania are similar to H. erectus (for example, the long, low vault, wide base, and thickening along the sagittal midline). In other characteristics, however, the Dmanisi individuals are different from other hominid finds outside of Africa. In particular, the most complete specimen (No. 2700) has a less robust and thinner browridge, a projecting lower face, and a large upper canine. Thus, at least from the front, this skull is highly reminiscent of the smaller early Homo specimens from East Africa more so than of Homo erectus. Moreover, cranial capacity if this individual is very small (estimated at only 600 cm3 , well within the range of early Homo). In fact, all three Dmanisi crania show small cranial capacities (the other two estimated at 650 and 780 cm3).

 

Homo erectus from Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia
Photos courtesy of Professor David Lordkipanidze, Deputy Director, Georgian State Museum

 

A number of stone tools have also been recovered at Dmanisi. The tools are similar to early African implements and are quite different from the ostensibly more advanced technology of the Acheulian (the latter broadly associated with H. erectus in much of the Old World).

From these recent, somewhat startling revelations from Dmanisi several questions can be raised:

    1) Was Homo erectus the first hominid to leave Africa -- or was it an earlier form of Homo?

    2) Did hominids require a large brain and sophisticated stone-tool culture to disperse out of Africa?

    3) Was the large, robust body build of H. erectus a necessary adaptation to disperse initially into Eurasia.

    4) Did, in fact, H. erectus evolve primarily in Eurasia and then migrate back to Africa?

Of course, the Dmanisi discoveries are very new, so any conclusions we draw must be seen as highly tentative. Nevertheless, the recent evidence raises important and exciting possibilities. In regards to Question 1, it now seems likely the first trans-continental hominid migrants were a form of early Homo (similar to the smaller East African species, Homo habilis). At best, and as exemplified at Dmanisi, the first hominids to leave Africa were a very early form of H. erectus, one much more primitive than any of the other specimens from Africa, Asia, or Europe discussed above.

As for question 2, certainly the smaller individuals from Dmanisi did not have a large brain (by H. erectus standards), nor did they have an advanced stone tool culture (possessing tools very similar to the earliest ones from East and South Africa).

Question 3 concerns body size and proportions, but is more speculative than the two above queries. Very little postcranial material has been found thus far at Dmanisi, so we do not know as yet the body structure of the earliest hominids to leave Africa. It is possible, however, that the overall body proportions (as with the face of the smallest Dmanisi cranium) resemble Homo habilis more than they do H. erectus. Thus, these first pioneers to leave Africa may have been, in the words of Phillip Rightmire (of the University of Binghamton and a co-author of the first article announcing the 2001 Dmanisi discovery), ‘little people.” That is, they may have been very different from the big-bodied, long-legged, full-blown H. erectus body plan.

And, lastly, where did the full-blown H. erectus morphology first evolve? For decades it has been widely assumed H. erectus evolved first in Africa and then emigrated to elsewhere in the Old World. Hence, now the teasing possibility exists that H. erectus evolved primarily in Eurasia and (only after attaining its fully characteristic morphology) did it migrate back into Africa (as perhaps the Bouri cranium, dated to 1 m.y.a. suggests?).


by Robert Jurmain, San Jose State University

Georgia became a kingdom about 4 B.C. and Christianity was introduced in A.D. 337. During the reign of Queen Tamara (1184–1213), its territory included the whole of Transcaucasia. During the 13th century, Tamerlane and the Mongols decimated its population. From the 16th century on, the country was the scene of a struggle between Persia and Turkey. In the 18th century, it became a vassal to Russia in exchange for protection from the Turks and Persians.

Georgia joined Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1917 to establish the anti-Bolshevik Transcaucasian Federation and on its dissolution in 1918 proclaimed its independence. In 1922, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan were annexed by the USSR and formed the Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1936, Georgia became a separate Soviet republic. Under Soviet rule it was transformed from an agrarian country to a largely industrial urban society.

Georgia proclaimed its independence from the USSR on April 6, 1991. In Jan. 1992, its leader, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was sacked and later accused of dictatorial policies, the jailing of opposition leaders, human rights abuses, and clamping down on the media. A ruling military council was established by the opposition until a civilian authority could be restored. In 1992, Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet Union's foreign minister under Gorbachev, became president.

In 1992–1993, the government engaged in armed conflict with separatists in the breakaway province of Abkhazia. In 1994, Russia and Georgia signed a cooperation treaty that authorized Russia to keep three military bases in Georgia and allowed Russians to train and equip the Georgian army. In 1996, Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia agreed to a cessation of hostilities in their six-year conflict. With little progress in resolving the Abkhazia situation, however, parliament in April 1997 voted overwhelmingly to threaten Russia with loss of its military bases, should it fail to extend Russian military control over the separatist region. In 1998, the U.S. and Britain began an operation to remove nuclear material from Georgia, dangerous remains from its Soviet years. A darling of the West since his days as the Soviet Union's foreign minister, Shevardnadze was viewed far less favorably by his own people, who were frustrated by unemployment, poverty, cronyism, and rampant corruption. In the 2000 presidential elections, Shevardnadze was reelected with 80% of the vote, though international observers determined the election was marred by irregularities.

In 2002, U.S. troops trained Georgia's military in antiterrorism measures in the hopes that Georgian troops would subdue Muslim rebels fighting in the country. Tensions between Georgia and Russia were strained over the Pankisi Gorge, a lawless region of Georgia that Russia said had become a haven for Islamic militants and Chechen rebels.

In May 2003, work began on the Georgian section of the enormously ambitious Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which runs from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey. The pipeline opened in July 2006.

Massive demonstrations began after the preliminary results of the Nov. 2003 parliamentary elections. The opposition party (and international monitors) claimed that the elections were rigged in favor of Shevardnadze and the political parties who supported him. After more than three weeks of massive protests, Shevardnadze resigned on Nov. 30. Georgians compared the turn of events to Czechoslovakia’s “velvet revolution.” In Jan. 2004 presidential elections, Mikhail Saakashvili, the key opposition leader, won in a landslide. The 36-year-old lawyer built his reputation as a reformer committed to ending corruption, and in his first two years as president, Saakashvili made significant progress in rooting out the country's endemic corruption. Saakashvili's ongoing difficulty has been reining in Georgia's two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both of which are strongly supported by neighboring Russia.

After the World War II, economy of Georgia in several years became higher than it was before the war. New enterprises, water power stations, mines, irrigating channels etc were arranged. But the government kept the society under the heavy ideological pressure. The new repression wave appeared again, which was ceased only after the death of Stalin (1953).

The new Soviet government, the leader of which was N. Khrushchov, softened the inner political regime. Besides, in the 30-40s Stalin was accused to every crime, committed by the government. Nothing was said about the Soviet system perversion. On the XX Communist Party Congress in February 1956, worshipping of Stalin was converted into the personal retaliations. Anti-Stalinist Company was tending to the opinion, that his repressive actions were conditioned by his Georgian origin.

Especially bitter was the critique of Stalin for Georgian youth, which was accustomed to the fanatical idolization of Stalin before by the official ideology. Besides, Georgian national feelings were offended. On March 3, 1956, separate manifestations took place in Tbilisi high educational schools, and on March 5, the situation in the city became unrulable. Demonstrations and meetings were held, where people required rehabilitation of Stalin, criticized the XX Congress solutions. Nothing was anti-Soviet in this action, but the government cruelly suppressed youth protest. On March 9, Soviet armies shot the participants of the meeting in the center of Tbilisi. More than 100 people died and about 300 people were wounded (the exact numbers are not known).

In fact, after the March tragedy, the wide layers of population of Georgia lost the Communist ideology belief. In the 60s, there began the period in Soviet Union, which was called "the Period of Motionlessness" afterwards. In spite of that, the great "Communism" reconstructions still were running, party and state functioners of different ranks reported to the higher authorities about new achievements, in fact, their words were far from reality. Corruption became of a total character as well. No one believed in official propaganda any more.

Falsity and dissimulation of the state politic level, morally corrupted the Soviet society. Since the 60s, in Georgia and other USS Republics, there widely set so-called "Shade Economic", which was the result of ignorance of the economical objective rules under administrational governance system.

The most radical expression of the progressive part of the society, opposed to the existing system, was the dissidential movement, which started since the 60s. Among the Georgian dissidents, the most devoted and spiritually strong person was Merab Kostava (1938-1989). He was arrested for several times by the state security committee and served his term in the far camps of Russia.

By the 80s, it became clear to everyone that the rotten Soviet regime had no future perspective. In 1985, the leader of the country, M. Gorbachov tried to overcome the crisis with cardinal reforms. The "Restructuring" ("Perestroika") began, but the liberalization and publicity, connected to this process, appeared the gin from the bottle for Soviet Union. Architects of the "Restructuring" ("Perestroika") didn’t know that the Soviet system built with blood and iron, had no "immunity" for democratic freedom, and as a result, the swift decomposition of this process began.

"Restructuring" in Georgia began with emphasizing national aspiration. In 1987, the first legal national political organization – Ilia Chavchavadze Society – was created. In a while, other similar organizations appeared as well. The leaders of the national movement, which became of a wide scale by 1988, were former prisoners, Georgian dissidents. Soon, the motto of Independence of Georgia was evidently shown. Soviet government, which in spite of the "Restructuring", periodically kept trying to hold forceful methods, used armies and armored technique towards the peaceful meeting participants in the center of Tbilisi. On April 9, 1989, at night, the meeting was attacked. 20 persons were killed; most of them were women. It must be notified that the April 9 tragedy happened on the same place, as March 9, 1956 bloodshed. But in 1989, the general situation in USSR was quite different. The bloody action on April 9 angered not only the whole Georgia, but the progressive society of Russia, which firmly rebelled against this fact. In those days in Georgia, there took place the national integrity. The government was forced to step back.

After April 9, the leadership of Georgian Communist Party lost its influence in the Republic. National movement became the main motive power for the political life of Georgia. Unfortunately, among the leaders of this movement there was not unanimity at all. M. Kostava, who tried to maintain the integrity of national powers, died in the accident. After his death, the powers, struggling for the independence, finally divided into two camps. The most popular in the public was the political block "The Round Table". The famous leader of this block was the former dissident, philologist, Zviad Gamsakhurdia (1938-1993). Exactly his personal popularity conditioned the victory (62% votes) of "The Round Table" after October 28, 1990 elections (the first many-partied elections in Georgia since 1921). Thus, it was a peaceful end of the Communist governance in Georgia.

Z. Gamsakhurdia soon became the president of the country, and during the period of his reign, the inner political situation in the Republic aggravated. Because of the inflexible, ambitious policy of Gamsakhurdia, the relations between the governing "The Round Table" and the rest opposite part, became bitter. The condition in Autonomies was strained too, especially in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Gamsakhurdia’s nationalistic phraseology disturbed the ethnic minorities. If in 1981 the partial compromise with Abkhazia was managed, the conflict with Ossetia became the armed opposition. The reason of this was the abolishment of Autonomous Region of Ossetia by the Parliament of Georgia. This solution was provoked by Ossetians, declaring the Autonomous Region as the Sovereign Republic. It must also be notified that in Georgia of this period, one of the reasons of existing ethnical conflicts (and also the split in Georgian national movement), except the local radical actions, was, as it seemed, the hidden activity of SSC of the Union, which used the tried imperial methods – "separate and dominate".

Gamsakhurdia was on the way to the independence of Georgia in the relations with the Soviet center. On April 9, 1991, the Parliament of Georgia adopted the Declaration of Independence but this Act, as declared from one side, wasn’t internationally recognized.

In autumn, 1991, opposition between the Presidential government and the opposite side reached the flammable level. The role of catalizator played the suppression of the non-sanction meeting of the opposition by the police in Tbilisi. The split appeared even in the closest encircling of Gamsakhurdia. President was denied by a large part of his main force structure - the National Guard. On December 22, 1991, military movements began between the rebelled guard and the guard of the Presidential Palace. "Tbilisi War" lasted till January 6 and ended with the flight of the President from Georgia. The armed fight, during which the rival sides used artillery and reactive projectiles, considerably damaged the central district of the city.

While the two wings of the national movement were busy with retaliations, there occurred the most important event in the world: Soviet Union was decomposed and the world recognized the independence of its republics de-facto and then de-eure.

Because of the tragic facts existing in Georgia, its juridical recognition was comparatively complicated. But after returning of the former Minister of Foreign Relations of Soviet Union, the worldwide famous politician, Edward Shevardnadze, the things broke through March, 1992. E. Shevardnadze was the first leader of Georgia in the first half of the 70-80s, and was well acquainted to the local situation. His return filled the large part of the population of Georgia with hope that the prolonged anarchy would end and the country would stand on the way to stabilization. Shevardnadze soon really managed to cease Georgian-Ossetian conflict, and passed the process in the politically regulated dimension. But the situation in Abkhazia and some Western regions, where the armed groups of the adherents of Gamsakhurdia acted, remained strained.

Return of Shevardnadze and coming of the temporary supreme governmental body of transitional period, State Council, into the supremacy became the signal for the world for juridical recognition of the state Independence. Already on March 23, 1992, Independence of Georgia was, recognized by the Euro-union countries. On July 31 of the same year, Georgia was adopted in the UN Organization as its 179th plenipotentiary member. Thus, Georgia again came into the list of liberal states. The dream of the best Georgian representatives of the XIX and XX cen. fulfilled.


by Dr. George Anchabadze