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Trypillya, an ancient culture
A museum Pradavnya Aratta — Ukrayina is located in the village of Trypillya, south of Kyiv. The museum exhibits archeological finds and other materials related to the ancient culture of Trypillya (also known as the Cucuteni-Tripolye Neolithic European culture). The first such finds were unearthed in 1899 by Vikentiy Khvoyka, a history enthusiast from Kyiv, and further archeological finds made it possible to establish the area that the Trypillya culture occupied and the approximate time of its existence.
The new museum in Trypillya was founded by Oleksandr Polishchuk, a collector and the museum’s director, Volodymyr Lazorenko, who works in a construction business, Anatoliy Haydamaka, an artist, and Yury Shylov, a historian — all of them Trypillya culture enthusiasts. Among the museum’s financial supporters was James (Kost) Temertey, a Canadian citizen of Ukrainian descent.
For a long time, Trypillya culture studies were not encouraged in Ukraine, and it has been only after Ukraine’s independence in 1991 that a new interest in it reemerged.
Oleksandr Polishchuk was interviewed by Yevhen BUDKO, senior editor of Mizhnarodny Turyzm Magazine.
Mr Polishchuk, I’m sure journalists have already asked you all possible kinds of questions, but are there any that have not yet been asked, but you think they should have been?
Journalists do not seem to be too interested in the conception and reason why the museum was established. The museum was founded as a center called upon to inform Ukrainians that there once existed a unique civilization on the territory of modern-day Ukraine. I hold the opinion that it is from Ukraine that ancient peoples migrated to Greece, Italy, Germany, Britain and Spain to form separate cultures.
What is the most frequently asked question then?
Where did I get all those artifacts? And, did I buy them from “black archeologists?” (amateur archeologists who do illegal excavating and sell their finds to the highest bidder). But in all fairness, it must be said that questions like this are no longer asked.
As far as our museum is concerned, all the items exhibited have been acquired in a legitimate way at collectors’ clubs. None of the founders has done any digging except in their vegetable gardens. Ours is a private museum, and there’s nothing wrong in that.
As far as I know, in Greece, for example, 95 percent of museums are in private ownership. In Ukraine, unfortunately, there are still a lot of misconceptions and restrictions. But the more you try to restrict something or ban it, the more active the defiance is… Back in the 19th century, there were more than 300 private archeological collections. In memoirs about Khvoyka, I read that after a meeting devoted to archeological matters that was held at an archeological site, the participants were invited to take whatever artifacts they liked from among those that had been unearthed. Khvoyka’s collections were later purchased by art patrons.
I know a new law that will deal specifically with archeological finds is being worked out. This work, which has been initiated by the president of Ukraine, is being carried out under the supervision of Deputy Premier Ivan Vasyunyk. We provide our suggestions and opinions as well.
Does your museum conduct any archeological or historical research?
Yes, and we are helped in this work by archeologists, historians and collectors. We have examined about 100 ancient settlements that have not been properly studied before. The most recent one that we examined is in Vinnytsya Oblast (Region). It occupies a territory of 100 hectares. At another one, on the bank of the Dnister River, we plan to build a reconstruction of a Trypillya settlement. It will protect the site and prevent it from being sold for development.
How big is the danger that Trypillya culture sites may be used for commercial or other purposes?
We know of a case when in Kyiv Oblast a Trypillya culture site was used for quarrying soil for cottages being built by the rich and powerful. Now this soil can be found in their gardens. The matter was investigated by Mykhailo Vodeyko, a Trypillya culture enthusiast.
What do we actually know about the achievements of the Trypillya culture?
I’m among those who believe that it was in the Trypillya culture that the wheel was invented about 6,000 years ago. The evidence of this we see in little Trypillya culture clay figurines that have wheels. These figurines could have had some ritual use, or they could have been toys.
I also hold the opinion that it was on the territory of Ukraine that the horse was initially domesticated about 6,000 years ago.
Trypillya people built settlements that can be called proto-cities, with long, rectangular houses that were sometimes arranged in concentric circles, and defensive earthen walls around them. Some of these settlements were very large — the Maydanetske settlement occupied a territory of 250 hectares and the Talyanky settlement — 450 hectares. Their populations could have reached up to 25,000 people.
The Trypillya people practiced rotating agriculture, and we know they raised 12 kinds of grain crops. They could do weaving, and they made characteristic pottery of red or orange decorated with curvilinear designs painted or grooved on the surface.
Some of this pottery was of considerable artistic merit and was even praised by such great artists as Picasso. It seems that Oleksandr Arkhypenko, a Ukrainian avant-garde sculptor, was also inspired by Trypillya culture artifacts.
Many Trypillya culture artifacts bear signs that may have some symbolic meaning. Some symbols look like the well known Chinese Yin and Yang symbol, while others look like swastikas. Interestingly, symbols similar to those of the Trypillya culture can still be seen on painted Easter eggs.
What is known about the origins of the Trypillya culture and its disappearance?
Very little. In fact, we don’t know where the Trypillya people came from and what happened with them after their culture declined. I hold the opinion that modern-day Ukrainians are distant descendants of the Trypillya people. Many cultures existed on the territory of Ukraine, but the core of the autochthonous people remained about the same. The line of descent was like this — the Trypillya people, Bronze culture people, local culture people, Scythian land tillers, Slavic people, Rus people, Ukrainians.
Archeological finds suggest that the Trypillya people burned their settlements when they abandoned them. First, it is not clear why they chose to abandon the settlements which, evidently, were still in good condition, with piles of crockery left behind. The motivation behind their constant movement from place to place remains obscure. One of the explanations has been the exhaustion of the soil where they lived, but now this explanation has been discarded as unlikely. Epidemics? Enemies? People whose views I share believe that by abandoning and burning their settlements, the Trypillya people passed them on to their dead ancestors. I find it’s a good myth and it has the right to exist.
There is no consensus as to the purpose of some of the Trypillya artifacts either. Take, for example, those binocular-like objects. On one of the more recent finds you can see a female figure embracing this object. It must have had some use in Trypillya rituals.
The absence of skeletons in Trypillya settlements is explained by the Trypillya people burning their dead. Incidentally, recently some skeletal remains were found in a Trypillya settlement not far from Odesa.
A number of books on the Trypillya culture published in recent years provide a lot of details of various aspects of Trypillya culture and provide general information about this ancient culture. And, of course, welcome to our museum. A visit to it will surely pique your interest and you will want to learn more.
We are planning to create an Internet portal that will provide information about the Trypillya culture in several languages.
Are there any explanations why this ancient Trypillya culture developed in the particular area where it did?
Several factors could have been conducive to the development of this Neolithic culture. There were no major floods, the glaciers had already retreated and the climatic conditions were favorable. If we believe the story of major floods that affected vast areas in ancient times, the people who lived along the shores of the Black Sea had to move further inland. There have been several finds in the Black Sea offshore zone in recent years that revealed signs of human settlements at the depth of 100 meters. These settlements could have been somehow linked with what we now call the Trypillya culture.
There’s one word in the name of your museum that I don’t understand — Aratta?
It comes from the ancient Sumerian language, and in some Sumerian texts we find references to “the land of the sun” — Aratta — which was located somewhere to the north of Sumer. I claim that the Ukrainian word oraty — to plough — may be related to the word Aratta. Ancient Slavs worshiped the sun… At a place in southern Ukraine, known as Kamyana Mohyla (Stone Mound), petroglyphs were discovered that resemble some proto-Sumerian writings. As a matter of fact, words similar to Aratta can be found in some other European languages, not only in Ukrainian.
So, you claim that modern Ukrainians have descended from the ancient Trypillya people?
No, not exactly, it is not a straight line of descent, but Professor Serhiy Seheda, one of Ukraine’s leading anthropologists, claims that the people who now live in the regions of Polissya and Prykarpattya are closest to the Trypillya people anthropologically.
Some hypotheses say that the Trypillya people were of Semitic origin, but since these hypotheses were not based on any facts, except for the “crooked noses” on some Trypillya figurines, they were discarded.
Can further discoveries change our ideas about early European history?
Yes, they probably can. As far as I know, German, British and French historians have begun studying the Trypillya culture with greater interest. The reaction of some Russian historians has been rather reserved or even negative, probably because the Trypillya culture is centered in Ukraine, and is more ancient than any similar cultures found on the European territory of Russia.
Are there any Trypillya culture artifacts in any European museums?
There are some in the museums of Vienna, Austria, and Krakow, Poland.
What was your motivation behind putting so much of your money into spreading information about the Trypillya culture?
Such people as Shylov, Lazorenko or I are often called “obsessed by an idea.” But I think that someone must do it — inform people; that is, set up a museum, get books published and films made.
The village of Trypillya boasts another museum — the Regional Archeological Museum, which receives a million and a half hryvnyas (around $300,000) from the state for its upkeep. Our income comes only from the sale of tickets and souvenirs and the money we get is not enough for maintenance.
So, where do you get money from?
I used to be in a business connected with sugar-producing factories for 15 years, and that helps in terms of money. Plus, we have other contributors and donors.
Do you do anything to prevent “black archeologists” from robbing archeological sites?
We are doing our best to prevent the finds from being taken out of the country and sold abroad. Dealers from Russia are particularly active. You can buy a Paleolithic stone ax for 100 or 200 hryvnyas without much of a problem.
Yes, probably because there are so many of them still found in Ukrainian soil — the highest concentration of Paleolithic stone axes per capita of population in the world (laughs). In our museum we have about 500 such ancient implements. There are some fields in which potato-gathering combines unearth a lot of stones and many among these stones are Paleolithic artifacts.
Is it true that people keep finding Trypillya artifacts in their vegetable gardens?
Yes, it is, but even in the village of Trypillya, not all the people know what kind of things they dig up. Such finds should be examined by specialists, but the Institute of Archeology in Kyiv doesn’t have money to conduct research. People can bring what they find to our museum, and if our archeologists confirm that the artifacts may be of some interest, they will do some archeological digging.
More than 500 Trypillya artifacts are exhibited in your museum, while there are only 100 in the National Historical Museum in Kyiv. Why?
I know that the Historical Museum has several hundred thousand such artifacts, but they keep them locked in storerooms. Someone is set against their being exhibited or passed on to other historical museums. I hope that these artifacts will be transferred to the Mystetsky Arsenal Art Center, which is being built under the auspices of the president of Ukraine, when the construction of the Center is completed. Then they will be properly restored and shown to people.
The situation is the same in other cities. In Kirovohrad, for example, the local historical museum exhibits only several Trypillya culture artifacts, but in Kirovohrad Oblast there are hundreds of Trypillya culture sites! Isn’t it a shame? I’m afraid this attitude toward the Trypillya culture reflects the Soviet legacy of hiding the truth.
I know that President Viktor Yushchenko visited your museum.
He did, as well as ministers of culture and a couple of dozens of MPs. We also have foreign delegations visiting us.
Luckily, President Yushchenko wants to see Ukrainian culture and history studied well, and he wants the Ukrainian people to know their history and culture. That they know little was evident when President Yushchenko began to raise the issue of the Holodomor — the Famine of 1932–1933 in Ukraine — something that no one dared to speak about earlier.
The Trypillya culture is something that Ukraine can be proud of. In disseminating knowledge about the Trypillya culture, we have done more than all the museums of Ukraine put together. Incidentally, in the Kyivska Fortetsya Architectural Landmark and Museum, a collection of Trypillya culture artifacts, Platar, is also on exhibit, but I’m afraid the guides there will not tell you as much as you can learn in our museum.
Photos have been provided
by the Pradavnya Aratta — Ukrayina Museum
Pradavnya Aratta — Ukrayina Museum,
1, Rybolovetska Street, Village of Trypillya, Kyiv Oblast
Tel: + 380 44 520-9444, (050) 682-9505
Interior of the Museum Pradavnya Aratta – Ukrayina
which is situated in the village of Trypillya; exhibited
are samples of Trypillya culture pottery, shards;
on the wall — copies of the petroglyphs found
at the Kamyana Mohyla site.
Reconstruction of a Trypillya culture house
in the territory of the museum.
Stone axes and other implements unearthed at
the sites of the Trypillya culture settlements.
Reconstruction of a Trypillya culture stove with
a yoke above it, decorated with ancient symbols.
A human figure represented on a piece
of Trypillya culture crockery.
Holy Places of Ukraine
The opening of the anniversary exhibition of a well-known artist Leonid Hopanchuk on March 28 saw the presentation of the third stage of the “Holy Places of Ukraine” project, which held the first press tour to Trypillya. Leonid and Iryna Hopanchuk started the project in 2006 as part of the literary-arts initiative, “From the petroglyphs of Kamyana Mohyla to Cossack treasures in the fund to facilitate the development of the arts in the city of Kyiv.” The third stage of the project began with the opening of the anniversary exhibition of Hopanchuk’s paintings, and continued with a visit to Trypillya and a tour of the museum Pradavnya Aratta – Ukrayina. The project is funded by the Fund for the Development of the Arts and the All-Ukrainian public organization Afghanis of Chornobyl. Joining the realization of the “Holy Places of Ukraine” project at this stage as co-organizers was the artistic union of mass media of Ukraine “Slavuta”: www.slavuta.org.ua. The goal of the organizers — to draw the attention of the wider public to the national sanctuaries of our country and encourage their preservation.
On March 28, the Ukrainian Culture Fund was the venue for the gathering of art lovers as well as true Ukrainian patriots who are not indifferent to the fate of the historical and spiritual monuments of Ukraine.
Honored guests visited the exhibition: the brother of the president of Ukraine, Petro Yushchenko, Hero of Ukraine and prominent cultural activist, as well as a restorer of Ukrainian castles, Borys Voznytsky, Deputy Minister of Culture and an honored activist in the arts of Ukraine Olha Bench, national artist of Ukraine, and laureate of the state Shevchenko Prize Anatoliy Haydamaka, this year’s Shevchenko laureate Lyubov Holota, and others.
On March 29, journalists took their first press tour in the framework of the project under the name Trypillya. Together with the project’s creators Iryna and Leonid Hopanchuk, the tour’s participants visited the historical-archeological museum Trypillya, where they were greeted by the museum’s director and cofounder Oleksandr Polishchuk, who personally guided the extraordinarily interesting excursion.
Journalists continued their journey, visiting the station of the Southern Odesa Archeological Expedition of the Institute of Archeology of Ukraine. The director of the expedition, Ihor Hotun, related that the group’s most valuable finds in the last archaeological season were daily-use objects, which were no less than eight-and-a-half thousand years old. Today the expedition is preparing for the beginning of the next season and is dealing with experimental archeology: they built one of the oldest types of pottery wheels and an authentic clay oven, and have already checked their functionality in practice.
At the end of the trip, in the restaurant Trypillya, the guests were treated to Trypillyan bread, which is made without yeast, but with the help of grains and beans. President Viktor Yushchenko was celebrating his birthday in the restaurant and asked for the recipe for this bread.
Everything that was seen provided yet another reason for Ukrainians to understand they are truly a great nation that has not recognized its own greatness and incredible history, and that’s why we need to adequately appraise the achievements of our ancestors.