As my dad might have said... "Got to see hominins, blady hells".
|Facial reconstruction of one of the Dmanisi hominids|
But before that privilege, I had a few chores to do.
My "hotel" doesn't do breakfasts so I had to go find some. It was a bit frustrating. I found a nice looking cafe on a nearby old Tblisi street sat down and ordered "English Breakfast" (there was no "Georgian" option.) I waited for a few minutes before a guy came up to me and said...
"We haf problem. We haf no gas. Cannot cook. Cannot make breakfast."
They did have electricity and could still make me a coffee but I had to make do with that before trundling off and buying a cheesy thing from a street seller.
|No gas, no brekkie|
|Cheese and ham bread thing was ok|
The point is you're going to get rid of these clothes soon anyway, so why not do so abroad and reduce the number of clothes you have to take or at least the number of times you have to have them washed.
Anyway, my "comverse" training shoes, which I'd bought in Melbourne for quite a bit of money had finally had it. They were literally falling apart at the seams and the night before as I'd trudged home from the wine bar in the rain, they'd got thoroughly soaked through. So I wanted to get myself some new ones. The Galleria shopping center in Tblisi was the perfect place to do so.
I bought new shoes, some new socks, a nice pair of chinos and a new pair of jeans to replace the pair I'd wore most days.
One of the several bizarre fashion statements young people make these days which is beyond my understanding is the way it's become cool to wear jeans with one or more rips in them.
|Why is this cool?|
The whole shopping expedition was very cheap. My four purchases cost me the equivalent $76 aussie dollars. Bargain! and I've done a bit to help the Georgian economy too. Not that the staff seemed happy about my business in the slightest. I have never known such a grumpy, miserable sales assistant as in this Waikiki store. Maybe she was just having a bad day.
So, after dropping off my new clothes and getting changed into my nice new jeans and shoes, it was off to the museum. But on the way, I couldn't resist popping in for a hair cut at a hairdressers I noticed on my way.
It's another weird little chore I do on these travels. So far I've had one in Lithuania, Thailand, USA, France and ... Brisbane!
The barber was not a happy chappy doing my hair either...
"Do you speak English?"
"Gavorytye po Roosky?"
... was our entire conversation.
But he did a good job and even managed a smile when I asked if I could take a selfy with him in it. (Maybe he was just thinking "dick head".)
|Short walk to the museum|
|Georgian National Museum|
|Lord Kipanidze (I can't help but read his name that way)|
So, what is this fossil, anyway?
The Dmanisi finds made the news in 2002 when a number of hominins were found - five individuals at least - and a paper was published in the journal Science about them.
Basically, they represent the earliest hominid to have left Africa at around 1.7 million years ago. It had been thought before this that hominids had first left Africa much later, after their brains had got much bigger, closer to our size, and only after sophisticated stone tool culture had been developed.
The Dmanisi find changed all that. They were short and relatively small brained but could clearly make primitive stone tools, rather like the Olduwan culture associated with Homo habilis in Africa.
The key questions for me were about the Dmanisi site which appears to be a long way from the Black Sea and permanent water courses. A rare blow to waterside hypotheses of human evolution, it would seem.
|Dmanisi - not coastal|
|Hilly site not too far away|
Anyway, the exhibition was pretty good, even if it was not promoted at all. One could easily have missed it.
|Dmanisi was not promoted but an exhibit on Georgian independence was|
As usual, the museum narrative about these hominids stressed a purely terrestrial hunter gatherer life style but there were some clues indicating an association with water. Another frustration I have is with the naming of these species. It's officially been labelled Homo erectus georgicus, so a sub species of Homo erectus but it really doesn't look anything like some of the Homo erectus finds from China or even the Homo ergaster finds from Africa. The brain is much smaller and they're much shorter, for a start. It always seems bizarre to me that many hominins are given their own genus on the basis of just a slight variation in the shape of a tooth and others that are obviously very different are pigeon-holed into the same species.
Come on, taxonomists. Get your act together!
The way the fossils were displayed, on the outline of a figure indicating it's size was pretty good. All the descriptions were in Georgian and English. მადლობა!
Unfortuanately, as the pelvis is relatively fragile it rarely gets fossilised. Still plenty of bones did get turned to stone to preserve a record of what these guys were like.
|Femur but no pelvis, unfortunately|
|Lots of stone tools were found too|
|This copy of Lucy (I think) was on display too - Appropriate because the Dmanisi hominids looked quite like australopithecines|
|Fine display about Dmanisi|
Anyway, what does all this say about our evolution?
Good question. I'm glad you asked.
Basically, to me, it shows that hominins came out of Africa earlier than we thought and that relatively primitive forms did so. When I look at these skulls and see their brain capacity I have to say they look very much like australopithecines to me. Never trust the name given to a fossil hominid by the researcher, I think. Hubris rules in palaeoanthropology.
Although the Dmanisi habitat cannot be called "waterside" in the way I associate with African australopithecines, there was definitely a river close by which, according the text in the museum, would have been far more accessible at the time than it is today.
In order for these hominids to get to Dmanisi from Africa they would undoubtedly have had to have crossed a number of permanent water courses around the current Mediterranean and Red seas.
And a number of turtle fossils were found close by too.
In other (much later) findings from Georgia, near to the Black Sea coast, they found good evidence for coastal life...
|These 'needles' had been made to look like fish|
Georgia: 100 YearsJust like Lithuania (and of course Azerbaijan), Georgia was celebrating 100 years since it first declared national independence from Czarist Russia. The museum also had an interesting exhibit about that too.
Unlike Lithuania, which managed to retain its independence from 1918 until 1940, Georgia was quickly reabsorbed into the Soviet Union and so had further years of repression, ironically, much of it under the leadership of "one of their own".
|He's one of our own, he's one of our own!|
|Familiar-looking Communist slogans abounded|
Anyway, that was a good visit. Afterwards I had a stroll around and took in some more Tblisi sights.
|Some of the streets in the Old Town in need of urgent repair, I think|
|Churchkhela - walnuts repeatedly dripped in wine juice then left to dry|
|Orthodox churches everywhere|
|Underground market stalls|
I was getting hungry so after skyping me darlin I headed off to a recommended restuarant called Samikitno, on Meidan Square. They didn't have the wine I wanted so I ended up with a pint of lager and a pleasant enough dish of spicy stew.
|Spicy stew in a bread boat - yummy but too much bread|
It was two minutes away by the river but the beer was a huge disappointment. I mean what "brewery" makes just one beer? And it was horrible. Still, got to drink it. I never leave beer. Never! It would be rude.
|Does that say "Brewery"?|
|Sorry, but Alani "Brewery" must make the worst beer in the world. In Tblisi, stick to wine|
|Alani "Brewery" just by the river|
Perhaps the Alani beer destroyed my taste buds because the wine was not nice at all this time. I tried three types and none of them hit the notes of yesterday. I guess the lesson here is that small, craft, practically home-made wineries can produce good and bad batches.
|Cheese platter with a blend of Rkhatsiteli and Kisi|
After this I headed back to Samikitno where the three English chaps I'd met in Baku were eating and drinking. They were on their last night on their trip. Early the next morning they were catching a train taking them back to Kutaisi to catch their WizzAir flight back to blighty. What an intelligent and lovely bunch of chaps they are. At least four or five times Adam made a political point that I agreed with 100% and I couldn't have expressed better. It's music to your ears to hear one of your own cherished opinions eloquently expressed to you by someone else. Oliver and Jon, too, are so knowledgeable.
Cheers chaps, I hope you made it to your train OK!