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by Zsuzsanna Keller-Sule

My biggest discovery in Ukraine has been, so far, that of the Trypillian civilization. The existence of matriarchal, egalitarian societies in the prehistory of Europe is generally known, but the particular encounter with this very special one can be more than fascinating…..

According to Dr. M. Videiko, long before palaces on Crete were built, the Trypillians had a notion about cities (occasionally gigantic ones), more ancient, than Egyptian pyramids. Who were these people actually, and what had happened to their civilization eventually?

The Trypillian civilization appeared 7500 years ago around 5400 B.C. and existed till about 2750 B.C. It extended ultimately across a huge territory from the vast areas east of the Dnieper River to the lands southwest the Siret River (in present day Romania). This culture is called “Cucuteni” in Romanian. The names derive from the villages where artefacts of this culture were discovered around the turn of the 19th and 20th century. In addition to that, some researchers consider this culture to be “Aratta”.

According to some scientists, the Trypillian people were one of the first grain growers. They began planting and growing wild grains more than 6 000 years ago. Between seven and five thousand years ago they also began to produce metals and had domesticated animals. They practiced shifting agriculture and they moved every 50-80 years on to a different place.

Some of their settlements from around five thousand years ago are considered to be the largest in their time. For example, in Talyanky (in present-day Ukraine) the burned ruins of 3 000 houses were discovered which gave home to approx. 15000 people! Before building a new “city”, the previous one was burned down, together with utensils and ritual/decorative objects. The Trypillian homes were built as part of radial shaped streets with a square in the center. They had two storeys and were built of wood, where living quarters were separated from utility rooms.

The tangible beauty of the Trypillian culture lies in the pottery and clay sculptures which have already been excavated in great numbers. They were painted and ornamented with natural pigments of dark brown, red and black colors. According to Ukrainian antiquarian O. Polischuk, the first swastika was depicted on Trypillian pottery as well as the first yin-yang.

From the artefacts found, it seems that women had the leading role in the Trypillian communities. They headed the households, did agricultural work, and manufactured pottery, textiles and clothing. Their religious belief was based on the Great Goddess. Men probably kept domesticated animals and prepared tools. Practically no weapons were found among Trypillian artefacts, which might be the reflection of the fact that these people were quite peaceful. Slavery in their society has not been discovered, either.

An advanced sign system used by the Trypillians was a pre-step to the development of writing. They had clay tokens just like in Mesopotamia.

The Trypillian World fell already around 3500-3300 B.C. into decay. Maybe due to ecological changes, their socio-economic system got into long periods of crisis, due to which it eventually collapsed. Some artists, (and also historians) like Lyudmyla Smolyakova from Kyiv, believe that: “…the Trypillian culture did not just disappear, it lives in Ukraine in the form of patterns and designs that you find in embroideries, painted Easter eggs or decorative elements …”.

During a nice sunny day, it is worth going to the small village of Trypillia (south of Kyiv, in Kyiv Oblast), where Vicenty Khvoika, archaeologist, discovered some of the artefacts of this unique culture in 1897. There are two museums to visit:

The public “Regional Archeological Museum”
+380 (44) 72 33 299

The “Private Museum Pradavnya Ukrayina Aratta”
+380 (44) 52 09 444

Both of them provide local guides, who have a lot of interesting things to tell, especially, because their “stories” are in some respect different (unfortunately they don’t speak English). But call, and make an appointment in advance…. (and take an interpreter if needed).


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