The Georgian alphabet is one of the oldest systems, which has three completely different forms and constructions.
The Georgian alphabet has passed through three stages throughout its long history: Asomtavruli (Khutsuri Asomtavruli, or Mrglovani), Nuskhuri (Khutsuri, Nuskha-Khutsuri, Kutkhovani), and Mkhedruli. Each of them is distinguished by its characteristic graphic style. Changes in the Georgian alphabet are defined by various factors occurring over centuries.
The oldest written sources that have been preserved are from the 5th century. The Bolnisi Sioni Church inscription reads 493-494. Until the 1950s that was considered to be the oldest one. The Italian archaeologist, Virgilio Corbo, discovered the remains of a Georgian monastery with three inscriptions, near Bethlehem, in the Judean Desert, in 1952-1953. Two date back to the first half of the 5th century (428-432).
There is also evidence that Georgian writing has an even longer history, as shown by the Georgian inscriptions discovered by an archaeological expedition at the abandoned city of Nekresi (Kakheti, Kvareli Municipality) at the end of the 20th century.
In scientific circles, there is still a fundamental disagreement about whether or not Georgians created their writing system much earlier than the 5th century. The Georgian scientist, Ivane Javakhishvili, after a long period of research, concluded that the birth of the Georgian alphabet is to be sought in the pagan, pre-Christian era.
In Greek and Roman sources from the antiquity period, there are multiple mentions of Georgians (Colchians) having a writing system in the pre-Christian era. Examples can be found in historical sources written by Oribasius (2nd century), Apollonius of Rhodes (4th century), and other historians. Professor Ramaz Pataridze shares this view that, based on a graphical analysis of the letter forms of the Georgian Asomtavruli script, Georgian writing is based on Phoenician writing, created by pagan priests at the end of the 5th century BCE.
The oldest Georgian writing system is Asomtavruli, examples of which can be found on early historical monuments, including the Stela of Davati (367), the 433 Bakur and Griormizd inscription from Palestine, the 493-494 construction inscription from Bolnisi Sioni, and palimpsest manuscripts from the 5th-6th centuries. Due to the shape and contours, it is also called “mrglovani” (meaning “rounded” in Georgian). The most ancient monuments of Georgian writing were written in Asomtavruli, starting in the 5th century.
The Kutkhovani or Nuskhuri writing system took hold in the 9th century. This is the second stage in the development of the Georgian alphabet, which developed as a result of a graphical transformation of the Asomtavruli script.
Georgians have been reading and writing in Mkhedruli script for ten centuries now. Paleographers attest that Mkhedruli came about as a simplification of the Nuskhuri letter and can be found in sources from the 10th century. The first example of this script is an inscription in Ateni Sioni, dating to 982-986.
Every letter has a corresponding sound, and every word is pronounced as it is written.
The Georgian writer and public figure, Ilia Chavchavadze, and his comrades-in-arms contributed significantly to the reformation of the Georgia alphabet. They removed five archaic letters, which were no longer used in the modern Georgian language, from the alphabet. Those letters are now only encountered in Kartvelian languages and dialects (like Khevsurian, Pshavian, Svan, Tao, Imerkhevian, and Fereydani).
The first Unicode standard for Georgian writing was developed in 1991. The Georgian kartvelologist, Jost Gippert, contributed to the creation of the Georgian letter and sign group, and the writing system expert, Michael Everson, defined how to code for writing systems.
Numerous poems and legends tell us how important the people who created the unique writing system were many centuries ago. In 2016, UNESCO proclaimed the Living Culture of Three Writing Systems of the Georgian Alphabet to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage of humankind.