Here, They Lay Themselves to Die (Tales of the Black Death)
Carrying the Black Death, they climbed into vaults situated high into the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia. These men and women, hundreds of years ago, made the choice to not infect others, so they climbed shale-scattered paths to plague villages hidden deep within the historic province of Khevsureti, now at the Georgia–Chechnya border. These villages were kept separate from the villages of the living, the threat of contamination so fearsome.
Climbing inside, the ill pushed aside the already dead from the ledges made of local mountain shale. They lay down in their turn and waited death. This was ever a region of warriors, but even so, the stoicism inherent in such an action stuns, perhaps shames.
This has never been a land of ease. Nowadays, the mountain fortresses and houses are accessible only in summer. Today's military border guards give up watching the Chechnya border come the cold. When the Soviets finally infiltrated the mountains post-Stalin, they forcible emptied the villages in an annihilation campaign of their cultural identity. The children were still taught, in the quiet of their new city homes, the traditional martial art skills with fast-moving knives.
For many years, these vaults have been sites of local pilgrimage. Called heroes, the dead are given prayers and offerings. Visitors bring coins and burn candles. Some bones have now been emotively arranged. Up until the seventies, textile fragments and jewelry of precious metal clung to the remains, but plundering eventually came, as it will. Russians, it is believed, and with the Russian aggression at the Ossetia border not so far away, or the influence of Russia on Chechnya just a stone's throw from a riverbed or gravel path, this particular spook is easy to conjure. Yet let us not be afraid. The bones give testament to a grit impervious to colonization or campaigns of erasure.