Samtavro cemetery is the largest known in the Caucasus. It covers about 20 hectares and the later burials are placed on top of earlier ones. It is therefore a multi-period cemetery and has been called a ‘multi-terraced’ cemetery. The Bronze to Iron Age levels of the site contain 23 Middle Bronze Age graves (of which four are kurgans) (4,500 to 3,600 years ago); 14 from the transition from the Middle Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age; 63 from the Late Bronze Age (3,600 to 2,900 years ago) and about 560 from the Early Iron Age (2,900 to 2,500 years ago).
The visible remains of tombs on the site, which you can see today, are from the Classical and Early Medieval periods. The Bronze Age remains which have been discovered are closer to the road, by the entrance to the site. The Classical and Early Medieval burials have a variety of forms. Over 1,000 graves have been discovered from the Roman period (C1st BCE to C4th CE). Some are sarcophagi, whilst others are cists – a rectangular grave lined with stone slabs. Other types are made from roof tiles instead of stone slabs or use pieces of stone from buildings. Some burials are in pits or in Qvevri (terracotta jars), and some are of mixed construction of brick, stone or tile. The majority are tile tombs, containing an individual inhumation, with varied grave goods such as jewellery, but no tools or weapons.
See the entry on Dzalisa for the history of the site and the excavated part of the Roman settlement.
Currently excavations are continuing each summer on the edge of the village burial ground where a significant late antique tomb was uncovered in 1988. In the last year a large mud brick complex - believed to be a temple - has been discovered and research by the National Museum of Georgia is ongoing in this sector of the site.
The archaeological remains at Dzalisa date to the C2nd CE and there is evidence that occupation continued into the middle ages with current research suggesting that the settlement was abandoned c. C8th CE. Whilst ancient writers did mention a Roman town this far east in Iberia, Dzalisa is the most significant Roman site found east of the Surami range of mountains and the site is probably the Zalissa mentioned by the writer Ptolemy (c.100- c.170 AD).
Today the archaeological remains cover a large area around the modern village of Dzalisa with excavations continuing every summer. It is estimated that the town covered 70 hectares in all and the reserve contains several excavated buildings, including a public bath, a swimming pool, a building with under-floor heating and part of a villa with mosaic flooring and what was probably a private bathing suite. The mosaics are only one of four examples of floor mosaic found on Georgian territory and the only one found east of the Surami mountain range.