The second half of the nineteenth century turned out to be the heyday if European archaeologists: H. Schliemann found Troy, A.Evans unearthed the Cnossus Palace, new civilizations in Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, Asia, America were discovered.

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.

Where 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.

Patches 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.


Trypyllya pottery of great elegance.


Mysterious Trypillya artefacts.

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 in area.
Such settlements were divided into streets and blocks, with some of the houses rising to two floors. Some of such two-story houses were connected by sort of bridges at the level of the second floor. The population of these proto-towns is estimated to have been of up to ten thousand people.

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.

Trypillya beliefs
It is a safe assumption to say that the Trypillya people worshipped the Sky, the Sun and the Rain. They observed the movement of the celestial bodies and there is some evidence suggesting that such observations played a significant role in their life. There was a sort of astronomical observatory discovered. Representations of the Sun and the Moon are among the most often found in Trypillya ornaments and decorations.The Trypillya people regarded the world around them as made up of three parts: the nether world of the dead; the world of the living and the heavenly world of gods. The symbolical “tree of life” unites the three worlds: the roots symbolize the nether world; the bole symbolizes the world of man and animal, and branches symbolize the lofty divine world.This model of the world is reflected in ornamentation of pottery. But a lot of the Trypillya pottery reveal only the middle world of man (with representations of grain, ears of grain, grain fields, dogs guarding the fields, etc.) and the upper world of life- and warmth-giving sun, and no signs of the nether world. The Trypillya pantheon, similarly to other cultures of this kind, had Mother-Earth as the head deity. The image of the Woman-Primogenitor is closely connected with the image of the Earth-Bread-Giver. The Trypillya representations of the supreme deity usually took the form of figurines covered with ornaments. With the passage of time, this image went through several changes. At the early stages the image of Mother-Goddess emphasized her childbearing function with hypertrophically represented features of her female gender (to make the point even clearer, a symbol of grain-sown field was carved over her lap). At later stages the goddess was represented as a slender woman with expressive facial features and carefully arranged hair (some researches claim that the face must have even had make-up of some sort). Some representations show the goddess as a pregnant woman with a grain symbolizing the unborn-yet child. The Trypillya Mother-Goddess had three companions: the Bull (this symbol of impregnating male power was known to many early cultures; it was prototype of Zeus-Jupiter) and the Serpent, the intermediary between the Earth and the Sky, patron of life-giving rain (it could possibly be linked to the later interpretation of Serpent, similar to the one found in the Biblical story). Trypillya myths must have been coded with certain symbols in the ornaments on pottery and probably the priests read them as one reads books. The work on deciphering the Trypillya ornament-codes is going on.


Trypillya houses.

Trypillya ornaments; some of them could be
hieroglyphs.


Trypillya pottery
The Trypillya pottery was painted and painted pottery is known to have been used in many early cultures. But the Trypillya pottery is striking in its variety and in this respect it is unique. In the lands of Podnistrovya (Dniester area) the pottery was decorated with multicoloured ornaments; in the lands of Pobuzhzhya (Bug area) they were brown and black against pale-yellow background, and in the land of Podniprovya the ornaments were not painted but incised into the clay when it was still soft. If the technique of making ornamentation was different in different areas, the designs themselves were more or less universal: stylized curvilinear representations of dragons, the sun, female breasts (squirting life-giving rain). There are two basic types of pottery that have been discovered: crude pottery with little or no ornamentation, evidently for use as kitchen utensils; and richly decorated pottery of fancy shapes which was hardly used in everyday life.Pear-shaped pots with wide shoulders and narrow opening; helmet-shaped bowls or covers; bowls with openings in the bottom (oil lamps of some kind?); small saucers with four tiny legs and with heads of horned animals for handles; binocular-shaped objects (two connected cylindrical bodies with vertical openings; these come in many modifications) - were all of these things ritual objects?We do not know what rituals these weirdly shaped objects were used in but the scholarly consensus is that they were indeed ritual objects of some kind. Trypillya culture disappears. At the later stages of the Trypillya culture it began to break up into local groups, the Trypillya population dwindled, the areas occupied by the Trypillya culture people shrank.


Trypillya settlment.

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.
The peaceful matriarchal Trypillya culture was superseded by the warlike patriarchal cultures with developed animal husbandry.Other theories suggest a more peaceful scenario. One of them explains the changes by the internal instability inherent in the Trypillya culture which was caused by the predominance of land farming over animal farming. The Trypillya tribes cut down forests clearing vaster and vaster areas of land for their farming, thus extending the steppes, and the spread of the steppers in its turn invited the invasions of land for their farming, thus extending the steppers, and the spread of the steppesin its turn invited the invasions of the steppe nomads. Also, there are indications that the climate became much colder and this climatic change affected all the land-farming cultures of the copper age. These are only the preliminary observations on the Trypillya culture. We still know very little to be able to arrival at definite conclusions. Future archaeological excavations will hopefully bring to light more facts about the mysterious Trypillya culture.

By Natalya Mykhaylova