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PLATAR — an amazing collection of artifacts from the Neolithic age to Greco-Roman Antiquity
“Collecting is a demanding hobby, a passion, if you want, an obsession of sorts. If you don’t have it in you, you can hardly become a true collector. Sometimes, the very act of discovering a thing that you’d want to have in your collection is more fun than actually having it. And it does not matter whether it is an expensive collector’s item or something of a little monetary value — what matters is whether it fits your collection. It’s your intuition that tells you whether it does or not.”
one of the co-founders of the PLATAR Collection
An exhibition of ancient artefacts, At the Dawn of World Civilizations: Trypillya Culture in the Territory of Ukraine, was held at the Khlibnya Exhibition Hall in the territory of the Sofiya Kyivska National Culture Preserve, at the end of March and in April 2005.
All the items for the exhibition came from the private PLATAR Collection which includes about two thousand artefacts of the ancient Trypillya culture — plates, vessels, clay models of temples, implements and utensils, and other things, plus three more thousand artefacts that have come down to us from other ancient civilizations — Cimmerian, Scythian, Sarmatian, ancient Greek, ancient Roman, Byzantine, and ancient Kyivan Rus. PLATAR is a combination of two names, the owners of the collection, Serhiy Platonov and Serhiy Taruta.
Putting together a collection
The PLATAR collection began to be put together in the early nineteen-nineties when the late Serhiy Platonov, a successful businessman and patron of art, started collecting paintings and icons. Once, leafing through an auction catalogue, he saw photographs of Sarmatian bracelets whose provenance, the catalogue said, was the Crimea, Ukraine. These items were definitely of a great historic value and if they were sold to foreign collectors they would be lost for Ukraine. Mr Platonov began looking for and buying old collections which contained artefacts of ancient civilizations. As his collection grew, Mr Platonov began exhibiting some of the most interesting items for the general public to see them. 1315 items from his collection were eventually given to the state as a gift. Serhiy Taruta, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Industrial Union of Donbas Corporation and a friend of the Platonov family, got interested in collecting and saving artefacts of a great historical value for Ukraine. Their combined efforts led to amazing results — their PLATAR Collection is in many respects absolutely unique. Its market value can hardly be assessed, and its cultural and historical value is incalculable.
Trypillya Culture in PLATAR
The Trypillya culture artefacts in the PLATAR collection from the historical point of view are probably among the most interesting of all.
The Trypillya culture is believed to have existed approximately between the six millennium and early third millennium BCE. It was the time which is usually referred to in historical literature as the Neolithic Age (some historians use different names for that age — Eneolithic; Copper-Stone, or Copper) and Early Bronze Age. Archaeological discoveries in Ukraine and the neighbouring countries, have led historians to believe that the area that the Trypillya (or Cucuteni-Trypillya as it also known) culture occupied stretched across a large portion of today’s Ukraine and into Rumania and Moldova. The Trypillya people created a “proto-civilization” that boasted developed crafts, applied and decorative arts and rudiments of towns. The artefacts from the PLATAR collection provide enough evidence to conclude that the Trypillya people must have been sedentary rather than nomadic, that they engaged in shifting agriculture and animal husbandry and built settlements that were close to becoming towns. Among other similar “proto-civilizations” of Eastern Europe, the Trypillya culture was the most developed and advanced one. The fact that that are very few weapons among the discovered Trypillya artefacts may suggest that the Trypillya people did not actively engage in warfare.
Metalworking and pottery were among the best developed crafts of the Trypillya culture. Trypillya craftsmen knew how to forge and mould copper and their metalworking technology is amazingly advanced. The Trypillya people invented the potter’s wheel and two-tier ovens for baking and firing earthenware.
Some of the items in the PLATAR collection are quite unique — clay models of temples and other buildings and ritual vessels which date to about fifth or fourth millennia BCE. The clay models of temples from the PLATAR collection reveal certain similarities with architectural styles of Mesopotamia and Egypt of the fifth to second millennia BCE. Earthenware vessels and plates, most of which were made by hand rather than on the potter’s wheel, are decorated with ornaments and inlays, and those of later times are painted in one or two colours. Among the pictures adorning the clay models we find representations of animals and plants (one of the plants is evidently a palm tree, a plant that used to grow and still grows much further to the south), pictograms and astral symbols. The size of the earthenware ranges from very small to about a meter tall. A clay statuette representing a bull on wheels provides evidence of the Trypillya people using the wheel, one of the earliest such pieces of evidence known. Statuettes representing the wild boar and elk are painted in such a way so as to heighten their realism.
Statuettes of women are stylized to represent the basic female forms but at the same time they have some realistic details — noses, eyes and lips; hands are indicated by suggestive shapes and legs, though formed as one mass, are separated by an incised line. These female figurines are believed by some historians to have been used in rituals of some sort, and thus may be representations of Trypillya goddesses or a goddess. One of the female statuettes represents a sitting woman which is a rare example of a sitting figure among the Trypillya artefacts. Statuettes representing men are more stylized and less realistic.
Some other items of the PLATAR Trypillya collection are also regarded to be of a ritual significance — a vessel with two heads of bulls, a vessel with four legs are good examples. There are several artefacts in the PLATAR collection which vaguely resemble human forms and which are often referred to as “binoculars.” They are believed to date from 4,600 to 3,400 BCE. Some historians see in them stylized human figures holding hands, but no consensus either of their meaning or possible use has so far been reached though the first artefacts of this kind were unearthed more than a hundred years ago. They are believed to have been used as ritual objects which involved the use of fire, probably in sacrifices. “Binoculars” were discovered in what is believed to be the remnants of Trypillya “buildings” with traces of soot.
Earthenware objects — plates, cups and pots, are distinctively Trypillyan in their shapes and ornaments. Some of the vessels are decorated on the inside and outside with schematic representations of snakes, birds and other animals, and with symbols which must have had some meaning. Some of the vessels — “amphorae” — have ornaments that are suggestive of human faces with triangles to indicate the nose and two spots on both sides of the triangles to indicate the eyes. Some of such vessels have what appears to be four eyes looking in opposite directions and historians argue that such representations may be suggestive of a belief in “all-seeing creatures.” Symbols which are interpreted as having something to do with the moon may be suggestive of a lunar cult — vessels with such and other symbols were discovered in practically all of the Trypillya “buildings.”
The second half of the fourth millennium BCE was the last period of mass production of painted earthenware. The earthenware objects in the PLATAR collection can be divided into 15 basic types which vary in size from tiny vessels to huge grain “containers.” All the vessels are covered with hundreds of symbols which are arranged in certain patterns and may contain messages of some sort.
Bronze Age and antiquity
The advent of the Bronze Age is reflected in artefacts made of metal. In the PLATAR collection we find axes and hammers which were definitely shaped by forging. Metal implements began to be used in preference of older types, in which flint was used for making sickles and axes.
Serhiy Platonov once said that some of the items in the PLATAR collection are of the kind that can revolutionize our views course and early development of human civilization in general and of some of the early cultures in particular. The PLATAR collection boasts artefacts which were left behind by the Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Greeks, Celts, Goths, Huns, Khazar and various nomads that roamed across Ukraine for centuries, to be recovered in archaeological excavations of recent times. The Cimmerians in the PLATAR collection are represented by daggers, sheaths, arrowheads, axes, swords, vessels, ritual objects and charms, figurines of human and animal shapes. The materials of which these artefacts are made include sandstone, clay, iron, bronze and silver. Some of the objects with symbols decorating them must have been used in some sort of rituals.
About four hundred items of the PLATAR collection date from the Bronze Age. The Scythians (see more about the Scythians in this WU issue, in the article A Serendipitous Discovery) became particularly well-known among the general public thanks to the sensational discoveries of Scythian gold. The PLATAR collection has Scythian decorations — pendants and earrings made of silver and gold, gold pieces with representations of women dancers (“maenads”) and of animal predators.
Among the items in the PLATAR collection that date to the times of ancient Greece, Rome and Byzantium, we find ceramic and bronze oil lamps, clay masks, gold decorations (pins, fasteners, earrings and bracelets) and coins. One of the most impressive items is a Hellenistic gold brooch decorated with floral ornaments with a figurine of Aphrodite in the centre surrounded by grapes. Incidentally, this brooch was allowed to be used as a decoration by the president-elect Viktor Yushchenko’s wife at the inauguration ceremony.
The PLATAR collection owners are lobbing to get a museum created which would display art and artefacts from the history of Ukraine from the most ancient times, and would reflect peculiarities of culture of all the peoples who had once lived in the territory of what today is Ukraine. President Viktor Yushchenko has expressed his support for this idea. Such a museum could easily become one of the great museums of the world, on a par with such museums as Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia, or Louvre in Paris, France.
At the opening of the At the Dawn of World Civilizations: Trypillya Culture in the Territory of Ukraine exhibition, Serhiy Taruta, and Mykola Platonov, Serhiy Platonov’s son who inherited the collection, confirmed their determination to have such a museum established. It will be a worthy contribution both to the Ukrainian and world culture.
By Olena Kovalenko
Photos have been provided by PRT Communication Group
Small clay vessel. 3200–3100 BCE.
Pin. Yellow metal. From southern Italy.
Plaque with two women (Maenads). Gold. Scythian.
At an exhibition of the PLATAR collection.
Ritual vessel. Trypillian culture.
Ritual vessel of a phallic shape. 4000–3000 BCE.
Clay model of a house. 4700-4300 BCE.
Bracelet. Yellow metal. 2nd–3rd Century CE.
Decoration with fable beasts. Silver, gold.
Brooches. Yellow metal, enamel. 1st Century CE.
Pieces from harness. Bronze. Cimmerian.
Bracelet. Silver, gold. 12th Century, Kyivan Rus.
Ibex-shaped plaque. Yellow metal. 4–5th Century BCE.
Earring. From Eastern Mediterranean. Hellenistic period.
Plaque with lion. Gold. Scythian.