For some time it seemed that Eastern Europe had never had an ancient civilization and had come to the foreground of world history only in comparatively recent times. But in 1893, Ukrainian archaeologist V. Khvoyko, one of the founders of the national Museum of Ukraine, discovered during archaeological excavations in Kyiv remnants of mud houses and shards of painted pottery. In later years, many more finds of mud houses, ornamented pottery, figurines, copper weapons amply demonstrated that an unknown culture had existed in Ukraine several millennia BC. Further research, which centred on the vicinities of the present-day town of Trypillya (which is not far from Kyiv), added many more details but a lot questions have remained unanswered up to this day. According to Ukrainian historians and archaeologists, the Trypillya culture (usually referred to as Cucuteni-Tripolye culture in the English-language sources) came into being in the 5th millennium BC, flourished and then mysteriously disappeared about 3 thousand years BC, leaving behind a lot of artefacts. It was even compared by some to the legendary Atlantis.
did the Trypillya people come from?
At first, archaeologists and historians thought that the carriers of what in the twentieth century was called “Trypillya culture,” had come from Thrace or Greece. Later theories connected the Trypillya people with the Mesopotamia, Anatolia or Balkans. More recent learned opinion has it that the people who created the Trypillya culture, migrated to Ukraine from the territories of the present-day Rumania and Hungary, settled down and got mixed with the local tribes.
The Trypillya culture began to acquire its typical features in the territory of the present-day Moldova and the Right-Bank Ukraine (that is, part of Ukraine situated to the right of the Dnipro River). They built mud huts and lived in small groups. The second wave of migrants reached the area of Podnistrovya (lands close to the Dniester River), the Bug-Dniester Area and Podniprovya (lands close to the Dnipro). This period is usually referred to as the Mid-Trypillya. The settlements grew in size, copper tools and weapons were made, land farming developed, more sophisticated pottery produced. But then began a period of decline and the Trypillya culture with its developed tillage, art, poetic myths was superseded by the nomads and animal husbandry cultures. The history brings down an impenetrable curtain here (as it has done so many times in the past!) and we have no idea what brought the flourishing culture to an brupt end.
of baked clay
At the very end of the nineteenth century, soon after archaeologists began searching for artefacts of the Trypillya culture, they discovered in their excavations what looked like floors of baked clay. The first theory was to connect the finds with funeral rites, most likely cremations. Other theories suggested these baked clay pathes of ground were indeed floors of houses. Further research proved they were indeed floors of houses, dwellings and probably barns.Trypillya houses were rather complex affairs with walls made of wooden stakes, which were covered with clay. The floor space of houses reached up from 50 to 160 square meters. There is evidence that some of the houses could have been two-storied. Sometimes the houses were arranged in concentric circles. A big family of several generations occupied a typical Trypillya house.
Big houses with 200-300
square meters of floor space could have been sort of shrines - something
that archaeologists think might have been altars was discovered in them.
These big-sized houses could accommodate the whole community gathered
for a ritual. The Trypillya settlements were not permanent and must have
been occupied for 50 to 70 years.Archaeologists were puzzled to discover
that clay coating of the walls in most cases bore the traces of fire.
One of the theories has it that before moving on, the Trypillya people
burned their dwellings. If it is really so, then it was a strange, ominous
and at the same time majestic ritual: travois or sledges (no wagons yet
as the wheel was not yet known to the Trypillya people) are loaded with
all the chattels, and before their departure they set fire to their houses.
The flames rise high, scaring animals in the woods and possible enemies
lurking in the bushes. A strange ritual, one must admit.Trypillya settlementsAt
the early stages, the Trypillya culture settlements occupied an area of
about a half of a square kilometre. The Trypillya husbandmen tilled the
land in close proximity to the settlement until it was exhausted. After
staying at one place for about fifty or sixty years they moved on. Bulls
were harnessed into travois to move the chattels.Gradual improvements
in land cultivation and development of crafts led to increases in Trypillya
population. Some settlements began to acquire features of town. In the
lands of Umanshchyna there were settlements of up to five square kilometres
Bigger settlements were surrounded by a ring of smaller ones. It is known that in Egypt and in Mesopotamia similar settlements gradually grew into towns. It could very well be that the Trypillya settlements were on the way to becoming towns proper.One of the basic features of a civilization is writing and calculation systems. Some historians claim that ornamentation on the Trypillya artefacts is the primitive hieroglyphic writing. Strange artefacts made from clay, discovered at the places of the Trypillya settlements, have geometrically correct shapes (they have been dubbed “tokens”) and are regarded to be evidence of a primitive calculation system. There are many indications that by many characteristics the Trypillya culture was on the way to becoming an early civilization, similar to the one, say, in Sumer. But something subverted the further development.
The Trypillya tribes
moved south, east and north. Their settlements became much smaller in
size and the pottery now looked crude. One of the theories explaining
what happened and why, has it that the Trypillya culture came under pressure
from the nomads who began their exodus from the areas north of the Black
Sea. This movement affected the proto-civilizations of Eastern Europe
and Near East. These nomads, erupting from the Ukrainian steppes, started
the “Indo-Europization” of the vast areas in Europe and in Asia. Some
of the Indo-European tribes penetrated as far as Iran and India and opened
a new page in the history of mankind.
By Natalya Mykhaylova