Trypillian Civilization in the prehistory of Europe Print




 

© Dr. Mykhailo Videiko

The ancient Symerians used to answer the question "When was the World created ?" in the following way - "When people began to eat bread and melt metall in the houses of our country...". Of course, they meant their own Country.  But what was happening  in Europe and  Ukraine  when "everything was just beginning in Sumer?" Was it really true that people there were living in caves and kurens, as they did  in the Stone Age?

In reality, archaeologists have discovered  in Europe many bright civilizations  dating back to the period  between 6000-3000 BC. for the last hundred years. Among them you can find the following: Vinca, Gumelnica, Cucuteni - Trypillia. Scientists have explored many old settlements, some of them have got fortifications. Scientists have found  some traces of very old metallurgy, which flourished between 5000-4500 BC on the Balkans, graves with golden treasures, and clay tables with inscriptions. These investigations have given an opportunity to make the reconstruction of  "Civilization of Old Europe". The borders of this civilization  ranged from Eastern Italy to the Dnipro river, from the Carpathians to the Aegean and Black Seas.  But it seems, that 6000 years ago the East of Old Europe was  an unknown land, a far away frontier for the inhabitants of the Danube river. The modern name of this far away land of Old Europe is Ukraine.  We can translate this name into English, as "purlieu", an "outlying districts ".  It was an enigmatic, rich and boundless territory.

On the East, between the Carpathians and the Dnipro,  at the second part of the XIX-th century archaeologists also discovered  some ruins of the settlements, which existed between 5400 - 2700 BC. But who has left these ruins to us as heritage ? Today archaeologists call them "Trypillians".

In the autumn of 1996, Vikenty Khvoika, an archaeologist from Kiev, discovered some traces of this forgotten civilization: hundreds of burnt houses with strange pottery and clay figurines on the hills near the small town of Trypillia and nearby villages: Veremia, Scherbanivka, Khalepia  Staiky and others.

After one hundred years of intensive investigations we know about thousands of Trypillia culture villages, from the Chernivtsi  domain (region) in the  West to the Kiev domain (region) in the East. More than 80 books and thousands of articles have been written and published about "Trypillia archaeological culture"/ Five generations of archaeologists  (about 250 scientists from 12 countries!) have explored Trypillia antiquities for more than 130 years.  Many opinions and theories have been changed for this period of time.

For example, according to V.Khvoika Trypillians lived in  earth-houses and kurens . Now archaeologists have proved, that ancient people built comfortable houses (among them - two-storied), monumental temples and fortifications.  Among Trypillia culture settlements scientists have discovered ... cities! .

Historical memory, impressed in Indo-European languages, gives  trustworthy evidences of the fact that the ancestors of Europeans had a notion about cities between 4000-3000 BC  It had been  long before  the palaces on Crete and Golden Mycenaes were built. But where are they,  the ruins of the first European cities? If they have not been discovered for  hundred years of archaeological investigations, may be it is only an old myth of Europe?

But it still possible at the end of the XX th century to discover on the European continent gigantic cities, more ancient, than the Egyptian pyramids. Discovering of proto-cities has become one of the greatest explorations in the history of the Old Europe civilization .

They were found only 30 years ago in the Country, which  is now called Ukraine. In the place, where the Siniukha river separates the boundless Eurasian Steppes, cruelly scorched by the Sun, from the green  dales of the Forest- steppe, a military topographer Konstantyn Shyshkinon discovered some traces of large ancient settlements on the pictures made with the help of aerial photography. They have an area from one to four square km. The first reaction of archaeologists was somewhat sceptical, sometimes negative: "it can not be so, because it is simply impossible".

But the first field investigations confirmed this discovery. Carbon dates of these settlements were between 4200 - 2750 DC. So, more than one millennium of European  urban civilization history was opened.

Archaeological and archaeometry investigations step by step half-opened this page of Prehistory. It was a large problem  to make the  plans of  such  large settlements, buried under the ground. It was impossible to dig them on such large territory. Doing it demanded more than one hundred years of excavations of only  one settlement!

This problem was solved by Valerii Dudkin. In 1971-1974 he carried out magnetic  survey at Maydanetske, on the area about 180 hectares. It took him four seasons to make the plan on which there were 1575 anomalies from burnt houses. All buildings were detected to within 1 m. He continued this work in other places More than 40 plans of Trypillian villages in Ukraine and Moldova, dated before 5000-2750 BC. have been made for 20 years of investigations. Among them there were seven proto-cities, by the way,  Talianki, which had an area of about 450 ha, was the largest in Europe (dated near 3700 - 3500BC). To receive such information by digging, archaeologists would require about a  millennium... Using these plans, Ukrainian archaeologists explored more than 200 different objects  and collected much information about the Trypillia civilization and Trypillians.

The houses of Trypillia proto-cities were built closely one to another, like terraced houses, making up at least two lines of fortification. The first line occupied the center, and the second one was at the distance equivalent to the flight of an arrow from the first line. The scale is extremely impressive : the elliptical form of the citadel of Maydanetz was 1 km long and that of Tallyanki- 3,5 km long!

People, who created this ancient civilization, mastered the leading technologies of the  Copper Age : farming, cattle-breeding, metallurgy. They had a great amount of good soils, which gave them the possibility to change places of settling every 50-80 years. They had good knowledge of agriculture and adapted it to the local conditions. It is interesting, that  some of this husbandry models outlasted Trypillians, were used in the Bronze and Early Iron Ages , and survived till the  Middle Ages in Ukraine.

Trypillian achievements at crafts really impress and surprise,  especially in metallurgy and  pottery producing. The level of  skills in copper casting and  forging in most parameters are equal to the contemporary knowledge. Trypillians used potters wheel and two-tiered  furnaces. Their painted pottery have fresh colours after 6000 years staying underground.

The beauty of Trypillia culture lies in its pottery and clay sculpture perfection of  which cannot but impress you. The pottery used to be fired in two-tiered furnaces, then the things were painted, carved and encrusted. The whole world outlook of the prehistoric farmers was expressed in the ornament : the Land and Underground World, the Sky, the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, the Plants, Animals and People. The ancient paintings speak to us from the depth of the centuries in the  forgotten language many  of their creators once adressed  gods, now forgotten. Only they, old gods of Europeans  understood this language of symbols and signs. Observant people can see complete "texts" composed in ornaments: it is raining, the grain is falling on the ground, it is sprouting...

The Trypillia  plastic arts, namely portraits, are unique masrerpieces. Through 55 centuries we are looked at by women - old and young, with narrow or broad faces and sophisticated haircuts; by solemn men, with beards and shaven heads, big noses and wide-spread eyes.

Trypillians built comfortable two-storied houses. They lived on the upper floor, the ground floor was used in household aims.

Several clay models of Trypillian houses and temples have been  found, which help to reconstruct (reproduce) ancient architecture. An interesting collection of clay temples has been collected by Sergej Platonov of late. Literally, these finds  corrected our notion about prehistoric architecture of Old Europe between 4200-3500 BC.

One of them represented rectangular in plan building on platform, based on six strong pillars. The roof of the temple is semicircular, frontons are decorated with a crescent, which is similar to bull (or cow?) horns. The entrance to the temple is represented as an arc, decorated with five images of crescents. The walls are decorated with antropomorphous pillars and spiral snake symbols. The model was covered by red paint, and an incised ornament was enchased with white paint. On other models  roofs were painted, it looks like they were covered by rush floor-mates

An attempt to find analogies to such temples has given unexpected data. At the times of Trypillia culture the nearest region with similar rush-temples was located at Southern Mesopotamia. The remains of such houses were explored at El'Ubaid and have been known on the seals since the Uruk period (3900-3100BC). This temples are related with Nintur, incarnation of Ninkhursag, one of the most powerful goddesses of  Sumer. In Southern Iraq such houses exist at present time. It is an interesting question, how and where Trypillians acquainted with the traditions of Sumer, their temples and  deities...

Some other features of the civilization  are  the appearance and using of writing. Developed sign system, created by Trypillians, was the step to the creation of writing. Some from more than 300 signs (adout 12%), according to Taras Tkachuk, are similar to Sumerian: "star", "plant", "house".  Trypillians used clay tokens - the same, as in Mesopotamia. But since 3500-3300 BC Trypillian World fell into decay, and the process of writing invention was interrupted. Only a step had to be taken by Old Europe to create  their own system of a written language.

Not only these inventions, but proto-cities,  technological "know-how", religious and cultural heritage were abandoned after 3300- 3200 BC. The crisis of the economic system, caused by the  global ecological changes on the  urge of the  IY - III th Mills BC led to collapse of the last great civilization of European Eneolithe. The potential of Trypillia civilization ( and Old Europe on the whole)) were not realized at this time.

The Trypillians reached  their achievements due to their own hard work, mind and the resources  of a very rich  and plentiful country, now called Ukraine. They were the first to prove that people could build  high civilization and good life here by their own hands.

Now Trypilian heritage is being explored by scientists from many countries. Rich  archaeological collections have been exhibited now at museums and exist at universities, research institutes and private collections. The greatest treasures have been collected in Kiev, at National Historical museum and Archaeological museum of the Institute of Archaeology (the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine). Here we can see beautiful Trypillian pottery, clay figurines, clay models of houses and temples. More than in 30  museums at Ukraine - in Lviv, Odessa, Vinnytsya, Cherkassy and other places the  finds from Trypillya culture are exhibited.  Trypillian collections  are now in museums of  Poland (Krakow, Warsaw, Poznan ), Russia (St. Petersburg, Moscow), Great Britain (London), Austria (Vienna).

In Ukraine museums and places of ancient settlements and archaeological excavations on the Dnipro, Southern Bug, Dnister rivers attract many tourists.  A museum and a monument to Vikentij Khvoika were opened in the village of Trypillia, on the Dnipro river. Some years ago it became possible to visit Verteba cave (the Ternopil region), in which Trypillians lived for more than 1000 years. Archaeological excavations, which  started here in the XIX  century, were continued by Mykhailo Sokhatsky, director of the Borschiv museum. Hundreds of painted vessels and clay figurines have been found in the cave labyrinth .

The more you  discover about the Trypillia civilization the more it fascinates and attracts your attention . It still holds many secrets,  but one thing is clear enough - the history of civilization here began at the time, when people learned to bake bread and melt metall on  the land, now called Ukraine.