Akhalkalaki: The taphonomy of an Early Pleistocene locality in the Republic of Georgia

M. Tappen, D. S. Adler, C. R. Ferring, M. Gabunia, A. Vekua, C. C. Swisher

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37 Scopus citations


As part of our investigations into the potential of the Republic of Georgia for providing information on early hominin occupation of Eurasia, we report here on Akhalkalaki, a large late Early Pleistocene locality located along the lower slopes of a Miocene andesitic cone. Originally excavated in the 1950s as a palaeontological site, it was re-opened in the 1990s and stone tools were found associated with the fauna, suggesting that it is also an archaeological occurrence. Excavations in the 1950s and 1990s uncovered thousands of bones of an early Galerian fauna, including the remains of new species of Hippopotamus, Equus, and Canis (Vekua, 1962, 1987) and dominated by the remains of Equus süssenbornensis. We present the stratigraphy of the site, which together with faunal correlations and reversed paleomagnetics indicates an age most likely in the late Matuyama Chron, probably between 980,000 and 780,000 years ago. Taphonomic analysis suggests that the fauna was deposited and buried over a short time period, and was heavily modified by carnivores, but we cannot demonstrate involvement by hominins. Based on evidence of abundant krotovina (animal burrows filled with sediment) and the lack of definitive evidence for hominin modification to the bones, the stone tools at the site may have been mixed in with the older fauna. The taphonomic characteristics of the Akhalkalaki bone assemblage are not readily explained with reference to assemblage formation processes developed with actualistic studies that have been mostly conducted in Africa, including carnivore dens, predator arenas, human hunting and scavenging, mass deaths, or attritional bone deposition. Because of extreme anthropogenic modification of the present environments, the temperate setting, and the presence of mainly extinct taxa, local models based on actualistic studies cannot approximate the mammalian ecology reflected in the Akhalkalaki bone assemblage. A few comparisons are made with preliminary taphonomic observations from Dmanisi, an Early Pleistocene Homo ergaster site not far away.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1367-1391
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank all our colleagues and various institutions in the Republic of Georgia for their collaboration, hospitality, and the facilitation of this research, including David Lordkipanidze, Zaliko and Marina Kikodze, Socrates, David Zhvania, the Georgian Academy of Science, and the State Museum of Georgia. Special thanks also go to Ofer Bar-Yosef and Barbara Isaac for their assistance with this research. We would like to thank Theresa Early for discussion and editing, as well as Mary Stiner and Richard Meadow for their comments. Field research was funded by the Leakey Foundation, the NSF (Grant Numbers SBR-9512684, SBR-9601268 and SBR-9804861), and the American School of Prehistoric Research, Harvard University. Laboratory analysis was funded by a University of Minnesota McKnight Land-Grant Professorship and a University of Minnesota Grant-in-Aid of Research.


  • Pleistocene taphonomy
  • Republic of Georgia


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