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•Anthropologic Data on Ethno Genesis of Abkhazians


  Lia Bitadze 

Institute of History and Ethnology,  

Laboratory for Anthropologic studies  


Anthropologic Data on Ethno Genesis of Abkhazians 




An ethnos is a very complicated and multifarious phenomenon, which forms during long historical process. The ethnos arises, develops and some time disappears, that’s way it is difficult to accept the consideration that any kind of ethnos reach to today has primary face. The change undergoes not only It basic characteristics, like a language, culture, though, every element of an ethnos has its own origin and the way of development there are not causal links between them and so their absolute similarity is impossible. 

The studies of ethnogenesis does not include only the investigation of the development of ethnic processes in ethnic groups, but also, in the first place, revealing the source of the substratum of all the ethnic components, that are related to the first processes and ancient events. The comprehensive investigation of all the available anthropological materials gives possibility to describe whole history of ethnic groups that are printed on the bones. The morphological structures of anthropological materials maintain mixture of the ancient and modern hereditable characteristics that have been lost by historical, ethnological and linguistic sources. At the same time, very often, the relation between the culture and linguistics doesn’t corresponds with their origin and common Genome, because language and culture can spread without their haulers, but anthropological tape is always accompanied by a language and culture. Abkhazians are the most explored group in anthropological point of view within in Caucasus populations. There are studies in their somatology (Bunak,1946; Djanberidze, 1956; 1963; Abdushelishvili, 1964; Voronov et. al, 1987; Kvicinia, 2007; Bitadze, 2007; Bitadze et. al, 2008), craniology (Bogdanov, 1879; Abdushelishvili, 1955; 1964; Aleksejev, 1974), blood genetic markers (Voronov, 1985; Robert E. Ferrell et. al, 1985; Voronov and et. al, 1987), dermatogliphics (Ladaria, 1975, Heet, 1980; Heet, Aslanishvili, 1986), odontology (Kochiev, 1971; Kashibadze, 1988; 2006, Aksjanova, 1987), physical status (Kvicinia, 1982; Miklashevskaia et. al, 1982; Miklashevskaia, 1987), although, the belonging the Abkhazians to any anthropological tape is in question. 

The subject of Abkhazian ethnogenesis is important for many reasons. Abkhazians talk Abkhazian-Adigian language of Iberian-Caucasian languages and the coexistence; close cultural, political and economic relations connected them with Georgia and Georgians. There are only a few works about Abkhazian ethnogenesis based on anthropological studies. According to G. Djanberidze (1963) anthropological data show, that Abkhazians were connected with Georgian group more, than with the Adigians and considered Abkhazians as one of the Georgian groups moved to Adigian language (Djanberidze.G., 1963). According to Aleksejev “joining of Abkhazians to the family of Adirian language occurred, apparently, comparatively late and didn’t have much influence on their ethnic history” (Aleksejev, 1974 p.194). 296 

V. Bunak (1946) considers Abkhazian anthropological variation as a local variation of Caucasian population down from “Rioni” (RN) tape. Georgian anthropologists (Abdushelishvili, 1955; Abdushelishvili, 1964; Djanberidze, 1956; 1963) consider Abkhazians as the “Black sea” (BS) variation of “kolkhian” (KD) tape, though all of them have admitted that they have their specific characteristics. 

 According to Abdushelishvili (1955, 1964), the characteristics of KD are: narrow face, high frequency of blue eyes, fair hair, horizontal or upright tip of the nose, high nasal ridge, broad profile of the high nose, low nose height, thick lips and hairy breast, relatively high stature. Abkhazians are included in BS variation because of the combination of following sighs, that differ from “Adigian” (AR) and KD tape: horizontal or a little elevated tip of nose, narrow eyes,a high percentage of upper eyelid, a low frequency of dark eyes and high frequency of blue eyes, the straight profile of tip of the nose, the nose bone profile is weak, head diameter in length-middle sized or moore, the head index is low, face length relatively narrower, scanty beard, fair hair. These two descriptions show clearly, that there are some similar signs between them, like a profile of nose, pigmentation of eyes and distribution of body hair. M. Abdushelishvili, (1964) after definition of KD tape, he divided it into two variations: BS and “Western Georgian” (WG). The WG variation shows relatively high head index, comparatively long face length, large width of eye, large breadth of nose, eminent nose cartilage profile comparing to KD tape. These differences lead to their alikeness to other different tapes. BS variation of KD tape is more similar to AD tape and WG variation of “Iberian” (IB) tape (Abdushelishi, 1964; p. 67). Generally, on a certain level, Caucasian population has common morphology. Later adaptation to different historical, genetic and ecological conditions caused the differentiation of the morphological tape. Notwithstanding these differences ‘caucasian population,’ the term given by A. Djavakhishvili (Djavakhishvili, 1923), and so called ‘lica kavkazskoy nacionalnosti'(people of Caucasian nationality)- exists. The authors of these terms mention all these groups without division and thus they note our unity. V. Alekseev (1974) considered Adigians, Abazians, Abkhazians and Kabardians, as well as most Adjarians, into “Ponti” population groups. P. Kvicinia disagrees with it and thinks Abkhasians as a local anthropological variation of adigey tape of Balkano-Caucasian race (Kvicinia, 2007). In his opinion, development of abkhasian morphological variation occured on the territory of today’s respublika Abkhasia. He notes, that this conclusion is made on bases of comparison of the morphological and the paleoanthropological material. Though, on the very first page of this work, we read, that except modern Abkhasians, observed by many authors, ‘there hasn’t been any series of heads explored anthropologicaly in Abkhasia so far.'(p.39). As for comperative analysis, there is no trace of it in this work and most part of it is identical to the work, published in 1987 (Voronov,1987). In order to contradict georgian anthroologists (Abdushelishvili, 1964, Djanberidze, 1063) he stated, that ‘this opinion (e.g. belonging both Abkhasians and Georgians to the same local variation of Kolkhian tape of preasian race) was shaken by later anthropological and genetic studyings’ (Alekseev, 1974; Heet, 1983; Voronov, 1974). 

Here we should mention about (Voronov et al,1982) one more studying, where there is discussed genetic characteristics of abkhasians on bases of far more markers, than in our work (Voronov et al,1982). The aim of the work was to find out the genetic links in the populations with a high percentage of a long life-expectancy. The work defines homogeneity of the observed sistems. ‘All these make us think, that abkhasians of Abjui and Bzipi are going to devide into subpopulation branches. No doubt, the abkhasian population of Abjui in Ochamchire region is highly homogeneitic.’ (Voronov et al, 1987; p.134). E. g. intropopulation homogeneity is noted definitely and west caucasian population is not discussed in the work. Comparison was done between Asian and European population in terms of concentration of particular sistems of alels. 

Abkhazians is included in “Ponti” tape on bases of 6 main dermatogliphic patterns (Heet, 1983). I. Ladaria (1975, p.126), described Abkhazian dermatogliphic patterns and conclude that “there isn’t much similarity between Abkhazian and Adirian populations”. He demonstrated that the dermatogliphic patterns of observed groups vary a lot. Every Western Caucasian populations have its own characteristic comparative patterns. Abkhazians from Ochamchire region and those from Gagra are more distant to each other than three Abkhazian populations. Akhazians are closer to Adjarians and farther to Svanians. Voronov and coworkers (1982) discussed genetic characteristics of Abkhazians and defined homogeneity of observed systems. They divided Abkhazians from Abjui and Bzipi into subpopulation branches (Voronov et al, 1987). The aim of our work is different, because we seek the place of Abkhazians in the Caucasian anthropological map with the help of wide dataset and modern statistic systems to we observ the range of changes between Abkhazian inter- and intrapopulations level. Taking into account historical sources, that confirm on the one hand existence of many tribes on the territory of modern Abkhazia and on the other hand immigration of Northern Caucasians population during last centuries, that are confirmed by presence of Northern Caucasian names among modern Abkhazians Subpopulation analysis of craniological series of modern Abkhazians shows high variety of most traits. Abkhazians’ brachicephalia is more connected with middle sized length and small transversal diameters. According to the basic component analysis specific traits of Abkhazians are small facial base length, large cranial diameter, upper face breadth and middle sized diameter between cheek-bones. Abkhazians, as well as Georgians, is the group with the sharply profiled face. They are less polymorphic, than Adjarians. Componental, and discrimental analyses show, that Abkhazians and Adjarians are similar and have little different from Samegrelo population. 

On the basis of studies various systems: somatology, dermatogliphics, blood isoantigenes (ABO, Rhesus, MN,P Keel, Duffy) and craniology we consider Abkhazians as a polimorphic group, where there is difference between them, that doesn’t go beyond the characteristic limits of the ethnic group (Bitadze, Jashashvili, Laliashvili, 2008). In spite of very different family names (Megruli, Lazuri and Adigi-Cherqesian) there is no differentiation inside the population. Historical sources confirm moving north Caucasians in Abkhazia (mostly in XV-XVII cc). Today it is seen in common family names and their native languages. During this period assimilation of populations has occurred so much, that there are no differences left between locals and newcomers. It is possible, that the cause of anthropological no differentiation is the fact, that all Caucasian aborigine population has common substratum, at least in 30 century BC (Abdushelishvili, 1964). In order to find out genetic links between Abkhazians and the other 50 populations the morphological distances were studied and component analysis was used by all systems. We should note that morphological distances on bases of somatological traits are very low. Abkhazians (Ochamchire, Gudauta, Gagra) show very close morphological distances to Georgian ethnographic groups, as well as to the Northern Caucasians. The important fact is, that the distance to Georgian ethnographical groups twice less when that of Northern Caucasian groups. Component analysis of the same groups shows, that all the three Abkhazian populations with regard to the components, are always closer to Georgian ethnic groups, though with twice as more distances, than Georgian groups themselves (the present work, chapter III, figure 4-6). 

Description of dermatologocal patterns also reveals more similarity between Abkhazians and Western Caucasian populations. This circle of similarity is quite large for following populations: Gurulians from Ozurgeti and Chkhorocku, Megrelians from Zugdidi, Imerelians from Bagdati, Svanians from Lentekhi, Adjarians Batumi and Khulo, Rachvelians from highland, and Lechkhumelians (chapter IV, chart 19, figure 2,3) Abkhazians show even more similarity with some Georgian groups, than within three Abkhazian groups themselves. 

It is the first time the Western Caucasian populations have been observed on bases of dermatogliphic quantitative and descriptive patterns. Now we have an opportunity to sum up the information and find out what system of patterns reflects more precisely the archaic links between populations. With the regard to quantitative signs, all three Abkhazian populations were united in one subcluster and by descriptive signs-in three. In the first case, Abkhazians together with Lazians, Magrelians from Zugdidi, Senaki, Gali, Svanians from below Bali, Adjarians from Batumi are united in the circle of closest populations. By physical traits Northern Caucasians found themselves with Georgian populations. Besides, Abkhazians from Ochamchire are united with Gurulians from Ozurgeti on the first level and then join Megrelis from Zugdidi, Imerelians from Zestaponi and Abazians; Gudauta populations is also with Svanians on the first level and then are united with  Cherkesians; The population from Gagra is close to the following Georgian populations: Khulo, Batumi, Gorjomi, Adjarians and Samtredia (chapter IV). 

It is worth to remark, that the results of cluster and component analysis of descriptive traits are identical, as well as the genetic links between the groups, revealed by cluster and component analyses of quantitative patterns of genetic distances. We should note that examinations the same hand palm by two distinct systems are identical. It shows that on archaic level Western Caucasians are united. In spite of the fact, that there are family names with various origins in modern Abkhazians (chapter VI of this work). Abkhazians don’t show closer links by morphological and genetic distances to north Caucasian groups. The close links are shown mostly in Georgian groups (Adjarians, Samtredians Imerelians). This fact shouldn’t be understood as the result of mixing Georgians and North Caucasians. As it was stated above, there existed common population before the development of ethnic groups. 

 To reconstruct the development of ethnic groups scientists use many sources: archeological, anthropological, ethnographic, linguistic, and historical. Modern family names are one of those sources, as they may be indicators of those specific anthropological traits, that are carried by ethic groups. In this work are given 405 Georgians and plus 123 Abkhazian family names that are spread among Abkhazians. Abkhazian scientists think that this list is not complete and there are more than 600 family names in modern Abkhazians (Argun et al, 1987). The number of presented family names in other study isn’t more than 500 (Mibchuani, 1994; Gamakharia, Gogia, 1997). By T. Mibchuani, modern Abkhazian family names may be divided into three groups. Among them there are 80% of Georgian origins, 12-13% of north Caucasian origin and the rest have Turkish, Persian, Russian origins. The comparison of Abkhazian family names by G.Gasviani (Gasviani, 1998; Chapter I of the present work) and T. Mibchuani (1994) show that the range of family names are almost the same. There are as more as 150 names in G.Gasviani’s list and there weren’t about 60 names from T.Mibchuani’s list in Gasviani’s. Considering both lists there are really about 600 family names (588) and the majority of them is Georgian. As G. Gamakharia and B.Gogia confirm, this is the result of coexistence of Abkhasians and Georgians. In the XVII-XVIIIcc the part of Georgian family names became Abkhasians, some got common, most of them stay Georgian (Gamakharia, Gogia, 1997 p.612). In our opinion, the number of observed modern family names must have varied during Abkhazian ethnic history and development. Of course, there are many lost (or reduced and disappeared) or changed. On the other hand the genes of transformed family names didn’t disappear and they still take part in forming of the Genome, possibly under different names. So, the real number of names hasn’t changed and thus polymorphism of genes doesn’t grow. It is possible, that limited number of family names is the cause of anthropological homogeneity inside of Abkhazian population. There are only a few big family names and they contain about 130-400 300 families. Such are: Avidzba, Agrba, Adjinjali, Adleiba, Arguni, Ardzinba, Barcici, Djopua, Kvicinia, Pachulia, Smiri, Tarba, Cvijba, Shamba. When only a few family names can afford to have children, whereas others can’t, this may lead to inbreeding and to homogeneity inside population as a result, in spite of spreading various family names. 

In the somatological and dermatogliphic part of our work all three abkhasian populations are presented by 277 family names, that is 46,2% of all the modern abkhasian family names. 62,3% somatologicaly and 72,5% dermatogliphicaly observed family names are georgian. 39,2% and 43,2% of observed family names in Gudauta population by two systems are georgian and 50,0% and 57,8% those of Gagra population. 

Considering all the given factual anthropological material we can conclude that Abkhazian anthropological appearance is similar to various Georgian ethnic groups. It means that Abkhazians’ origin is in close relation with Western Georgian groups to a different extent. Even if there weren’t historical sources, toponyms, ethnonyms, architectural buildings with Georgian writings on them, two important issues on bases of the same results from different systems of morphological traits: the relation between the closest of Abkhazians and Georgian groups and spread family names can answer many questions. Archaic tribes, living on the territory of modern Abkhazia were ethnic Georgians. This is morphologically confirmed by dermatogliphic systems. We don’t argue about the ethnic belongings of Abazgians and Abshilians, but if these tribes had been great in number and different anthropologically, then it would have been reflected on morphological appearance of Abkhazians. Anthropological tape of any ethnos develops from many elements. So, the archaic Western Georgian population wasn’t morphologically distinct. 





One Response to “•Anthropologic Data on Ethno Genesis of Abkhazians”

  1. Darron Moscaritolo said

    Fantastic post!! I am going to need a good amout of time to think about your job..


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