The Mashavera Valley is well-known today for two spectacular archaeological attractions that bring a growing number of tourists into the region, too. Nestled in a stunning landscape, the archaeological site of Dmanisi is dominated by the 7th century Sioni-Sameba monastery, when the Silk Road ran here. But the monastery is not the main attraction as the site is much older!
Layer by layer, wide varieties of civilizations have left their mark here. Dmanisi gained special fame by the fossils excavated here that caused a sensation among anthropologists. With an estimated age of 1.77 million years, the finds represent the oldest evidence of presence of »Homo erectus« north of the Mediterranean Sea. The finds prove that the first representatives of the genus were present in Eurasia about 300,000 years earlier than previously assumed. Their path led through the Mashavera Valley.
In particular »Skull No. 5«, excavated in 2013, has forced anthropology to rethink itself: never before has such an old, well-preserved skull been retrieved from the earth. Together with four more excavated skulls, the find radically questions the previous classification of human fossils into different species. Apparently, the biodiversity of early humans was much smaller than previously assumed. Because of their international importance, the excavations are therefore on display as a special source of pride in the entrance hall of the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi.
The second attraction is the »Sioni Church« near Bolnisi. Built in 478 a.d., the Georgian Orthodox basilica is the oldest dated church in the entire South Caucasus. Just a century before the Roman Empire, Georgia adopted Christianity as state religion. According to legend, the church stands at the location where Saint George killed the dragon. The country of Georgia owes its name to this very myth.
The masonry of the church even contains pagan elements. The basilica is considered as an excellent example of early Christian architecture. Especially the early inscriptions made the building famous as they represent the oldest historical documents of the Georgian script. In addition, the church exhibits the oldest depiction of the Bolnisi cross, a widespread symbol of the Georgian Orthodox Church.