We received an enquiry as to when the "hezir" was first sewn on Circassian costumes [the characteristic cherkesska, or top part of costume, was distinctively adorned by a row of 12 to 20 capped cartridge cases [«хьэзыр» ("hezir")], in Circassian; «газырь» [plural: «газыри»], in Russian), made of nielloed silver or wood, with iron, ivory, stag-horn, walrus tusk, or silver caps, inserted into flaps sewn on each side of the chest].
Because the hezir is readily identified as a gunpowder store, the idea that it was "invented" after the appearance of gunpowder in the Northwest Caucasus is rife. However, archeological excavations unearthed Circassian costumes with the characteristic two-set pocket-like containers on the chest that go back to the 14th/15th centuries AD, long before firearms started to be used in the area. Hence, the hezir was initially used as a generic personal "container" to store various materials, including scissors, arrow-heads, and food-stuffs on long trips for emergencies.
The advent of fire-arms transformed most of the pockets into gunpowder holders. This suggests that the traditional Circassian costume had started to be developed by that time, since battle items were kept in special pockets on the chest, later to be used for keeping cartridge-cases. Here is an article on the finds.
Medieval Circassian Culture
Archeologists Unearth a Unique Medieval Circassian Burial Complex (Seven Mounds) in Circassia
At the border of the Republic of Adigea and the Kuban (River), an amazing find was made of a complex of seven medieval burial mounds containing the remains of Circassians and the personal items and weapons buried with them [according to the ancient system of beliefs]. This important discovery will shed light on the poorly-studied Circassian culture of the Middle Ages. Among the precious items found in one of the mounds is the world's first Circassian (and Caucasian) woman's amulet made of gilded bronze.
Excavated burial complexes, such as the one now being explored by the Moscow archeologists, can actually be counted on the fingers of one hand. Fully-studied ones among them are even rarer. The excavation process is still going on, and the scientists are beyond themselves with excitement at what other exotic finds await them. "The burial mounds were come by during the construction of the gas pipeline Maikop-Samurskaya-Sochi," said Vladimir Ehrlich, Head of the Department of Archaeology of the Caucasus Oriental Museum.
"In each of the seven mounds we found burial vaults, dated to the 14-15 centuries AD. With high probability we can say that these are the remains of the ancestors of the Circassians. More exact dates will be determined after appropriate and full study of the items found in the graves," Ehrlich added.
Among the discovered artifacts were scissors, used by the ancients for shearing sheep and goats, and many arrowheads, thought by the scientists to be the first ever in the Caucasus to be carried on personal clothing. According to the scientists, they were all found on the chests of the dead [during the Christian era the Circassians used scissors as "crosses" placed on the chest of the deceased as a final blessing]. This suggests that the traditional Circassian costume had started to be developed by that time, since battle items were kept in special pockets on the chest, later to be used for keeping cartridge-cases.
As for the women's graves, the researchers discovered a wider variety of interesting things. Special attention should be given to the gilded bronze amulet – a great rarity, according to the researchers. A total of about fifty kinds of artifacts were thus far discovered in the excavated mounds. After all archeological and dating studies have been made, the rare items will be given to the National Museum of the Republic of Adigea, where they can be displayed.
Photographs: Arrow-heads; Exquisite and very rare Circassian gilded bronze amulet radiating feminine charm even in muddy surroundings. (George Godizov)