Between the Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age, in the early 1st millenium BC, two similar cultures, Koban and Colchaian, arose in the Caucasus. Remarkable bronzesmiths produced a range of objects which are now well represented in the Hermitage. This large collection of bronzes shows just how magnificently metalwork flourished in the Caucasus during the Prehistoric era.
The nucleus of the Koban collection is formed of articles discovered in 1869 in a burial mound in Northern Ossetia, in the aul or village of Koban. These include battle-axes, daggers, decorative items and other objects, astonishing in the diversity of their shapes, their faultless workmanship, elegant contours and remarkable sculptural qualities. Later, further sites were uncovered in the central Caucasus which provided more evidence of what is now referred to as the Koban Culture. Koban articles are diverse, but the most typical are bronze items of the 11th to 4th centuries BC.
Most objects are covered with engraved or chased representations of animals. There are anthropomorphic figurines and animal figurines of three-dimensional design. Generalization and spontaneity and some degree of realism are typical of Koban objects, and many of them look astonishingly dynamic. Divine powers were thought to be embodied in animals, thus animal images and figurines assumed the role of protective amulets, and their use became widespread. Persons wearing such amulets were thought to possess the traits of the animal depicted, such as strength, agility and astuteness.
Anthropomorphic representations show that the theme of man was very important in the art of ancient peoples of the Caucasus. Most figurines are nude males with emphasized genitalia, embodying power, abundance, and sometimes depicting the god of fertility or god of war.
The Colchaian culture, very close to the Koban in terms of the production of bronze objects, appeared in the western Caucasus somewhat earlier than the Koban culture. Splendid Colchaian articles have been found, for example, at Bamborskaya Polyana in Abkhazia.
First half of the 1st millenium BC
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