The University of Winchester’s Department of Archaeology has been deeply affected by the outbreak of war in Georgia. A team of British archaeologists had been on an expedition to Georgia to excavate a site in rural Mingrelia, near the city of Senaki, shortly before the hostilities began. All of the team returned before the war started, however they fear for the safety of their Georgian colleagues.The British team, part of the Anglo-Georgian Expedition to Nokalakevi (AGEN) co-directed by University of Winchester archaeologist Dr Paul Everill, included 10 students from universities across the UK and seven experienced archaeological and specialist staff. AGEN takes British students annually to Georgia to excavate alongside Georgian archaeologists, students and volunteers.
“Fortunately, the last of our British team had left the day before the conflict began – but we are still deeply concerned for our colleagues and friends living in Georgia,” explained Dr Everill, who has been Co-Director of AGEN since 2002.
Dr Everill directed the recent excavation, which ran from 4 July-1 August at the historic fortified site of Nokalakevi, Mingrelia. The conflict first broke out on 7 August.
“We were aware of heightened military activity during the recent excavation, but we did not feel particularly threatened,” Dr Everill commented. “It was obvious there was a fair bit of tension, but there was no way of knowing what was about to happen. We have recently started to get word from our colleagues in Georgia. An email on the 20 August said that Russian troops have actually been in Nokalakevi itself, but the picture is far from complete and very worrying.”
Earlier this summer, the University of Winchester began working with the Georgian Archaeology Commission to help set new standards and programme specifications for archaeology courses at Georgian universities. Dr Everill has been strengthening links between Winchester and Georgian universities over the past months, working towards future student placement schemes and Winchester’s growing involvement with AGEN.
“A small, regional museum in Nokalakevi houses much of the material that we have excavated over the years, and of course there is a concern the museum might become a target for looting,” Dr Everill said. “A few years ago £1,500 was raised to help repair the local museum and our ‘dig house’. It is heartbreaking to think that this good work might have been undone, but of course our main concern is for our friends and colleagues in Georgia.
“We are an expedition of archaeologists and historians, but we all share a love of Georgia, its culture and its people. We hope to find some way of raising whatever funds we can to eventually help the country rebuild.”