Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: the Remarkable Trypilian Culture 5400-2700 BC Opens at ROM
Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) presents Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: the Remarkable Trypilian Culture (5400 – 2700 BC), the world’s first large scale exhibition uncovering the secrets of this ancient society which existed in present day Ukraine 7,000 – 5,000 years ago. The mystery of this compelling and sophisticated culture, known for creating the largest settlements anywhere in the world at the time, only to inexplicably disappear, is illuminated through some 300 artifacts, many never before seen in North America. The exhibition is on display in the Museum’s 3rd floor Centre Block from Saturday, November 29, 2008 to Sunday, March 22, 2009.
Background: In 1896, during the great age of archaeological discoveries that unearthed Troy, Mycenae, Knossos and the many civilizations of Mesopotamia, archaeologist Vikenty Khvoika, a pioneer of Ukrainian archaeology, unearthed the remains of a prehistoric people near the village of Trypillia, and which means “three fields” in Ukrainian. This society is thought to have flourished in the forest-steppe region of present-day Ukraine, an area approximately 50,000 square kilometres from the upper Dniester River on the west to the mid-Dnipro River on the east. In addition to intriguing religious and cosmological beliefs, the Trypilians achieved a great degree of sophistication – not only were they expert farmers, herders and craftsmen, they excelled in pottery making, evident in the technical and artistic excellence of each piece on display. Equally compelling, the Trypilian culture may best be known for building two-storey houses and its giant settlements, burned to the ground every 60 to 80 years by the Trypilians themselves, prior to moving to a new location. Approximately 2,000 Trypilian sites have been found.
“In the century since their discovery, archaeologists have learned that the Trypilians were even more extraordinary than Khvoika imagined," explains exhibition curator, Dr. Krzysztof Ciuk of the ROM’s World Cultures Department. "It is uncertain why this culture disappeared. Trypilians may have been replaced by Indo-European peoples who expanded both east and west at this period or, perhaps, as the climate became drier and the forest-steppe gave way to steppe, the culture’s ecological equilibrium was stressed and a way of life was adopted to mirror their more technologically advanced neighbours.”
A sampling of artifacts, including one of Khvoika’s earthenware jars, dating to 3500 BC, its surface rich with incised curvilinear ornamentation, is on display. To place the Trypilian culture in context, The Neolithic Revolution examines the development of human societies in Europe from the end of the last Ice Age to the arrival of Copper Age cultures, including Trypilian. Other Neolithic cultures, such as the Halaf, from what is now known as northern Syria and south-eastern Turkey, and the Vinca from what is now known as modern Serbia, are juxtaposed, their artistic legacies having much in common. Here, visitors can study the earthenware portrait of a pensive male face, created by the Vinca approximately 7,500 years ago, and which bears striking similarity to the ‘realistic’ portraits of Trypillia.
Spirituality and Artistic Expression highlights various puzzling pieces of ceramic art made by the Trypilians - specifically anthropomorphic figurines (ranging from stylized to quasi-realistic) and containers decorated in various ways (incised, monochromatic, polychromatic). Found in many Neolithic cultures, the female figurines on display, with exaggerated feminine features, are believed by some scholars to represent a ‘great mother goddess’. Other ceramic objects, such as footed platforms, and enigmatic, hollow “binocular” pieces, attest to the spiritual and ritual life of the Trypilians.
As we were first learning about the ancient Trypillians during the early 20th century, the first evidence was also emerging that the Trypillians who lived on Ukrainian soil were related to the Sumerians of Mesopotamia.Anatoly Kyfishyn made the first solid connection between the two cultures when he deciphered pictograms on the so-called Stone Tomb in the south of Ukraine. These pictograms, chiseled into the walls of this unique artifact dating from 12,000 to 3,000 BC were samples of the early Sumerian writing. Ceramics created by the ancient Trypillians also bore Sumerian script, leaving no doubt that Sumerian writing originated with the Trypillyan civilization. The pictograms on the Stone Tomb clarify the origin of inscriptions made during the 12th to third millennium BC. So Sumerian writing, the first writing in the history of mankind, is a product of the development of a human civilization that for many thousands of years thrived in Europe and the Middle East.As soon as similarities between the two forms of writing became known, previous contradictions were explained.First, it became clear who brought a developed culture to the land between the Tigris and Euphrates. Second, scholars managed to discover traces of mass migration from Trypillia (also known as Koukoutenya) to the Middle East. The migration to Mesopotamia was probably due to climatic changes and demographic factors such as overpopulation, as the ancient technology of land cultivation and cattle-breeding required favorable climatic conditions and huge expanses of land. Finally, it was determined that the large Sumerian cities, including Ur, Uruk and Djamjet-Nasra were reflection of the huge Trypillian agrocities. Pre-Sumerians brought city-states and social structures characteristic of Trypillians to Mesopotamia. This structure, void of social, ethnic and tribal antagonisms, explains the extraordinary stability of both Sumerian and Trypillyan societies over long periods of time.Today, scholars are trying to explain the disappearance of the Trypillian civilization after 3,000 years.It is intriguing to think that the Trypillians may have been our ancestors. One hypothesis holds that the civilization dispersed after climate changes saw the mild, wet climate give way to drier weather at the beginning of the third millennium BC. The theory is that Trypillians scattered in different directions: to Ukraine's Polissya, the Carpathian region, the Middle East, Greece, Italy and even the British Isles. Ukrainian and foreign sources alike cite this theory.Ukrainians can feel a connection with the self-sufficient nation (or nations) that have lived on this land over time. It's easy to see similarities between traditional Ukrainian patterns and shapes on ancient Trypillian artifacts. Though perhaps a simple coincidence, it is no less enjoyable for modern residents of Ukraine, and contributes to their interest in genealogy.There is public interest in continued research of the Trypillian civilization and in establishing museums and cultural heritage parks. They want Ukrainian officials and the EU to draw attention to the necessity of this pre-historic research, making the Trypillian civilization a better known aspect of mankind's history.Historians remind us that history didn't begin with the Trypillians. A pre-Trypillian period could be as exciting. Hopefully, our future will broaden our knowledge about our mysterious and remote past.
Discovery News ^ September 22, 2008 Rossella Lorenzi
Running until the end of October at the Palazzo della Cancelleria in the Vatican, the exhibition, "Cucuteni-Trypillia: A Great Civilization of Old Europe," introduces a mysterious Neolithic people who are now believed to have forged Europe's first civilization...Archaeologists have named them "Cucuteni-Trypillians" after the villages of Cucuteni, near Lasi, Romania and Trypillia, near Kiev, Ukraine, where the first discoveries of this ancient civilization were made more than 100 years ago.The excavated treasures -- fired clay statuettes and op art-like pottery dating from 5000 to 3000 B.C. -- immediately posed a riddle to archaeologists... "Despite recent extensive excavations, no cemetery has ever been found," Lacramioara Stratulat, director of the Moldova National Museum Complex of Iasi, told reporters at a news conference recently at the Vatican.Before their culture mysteriously faded, the Cucuteni-Trypillians had organized into large settlements. Predating the Sumerians and Egyptian settlements, these were basically proto-cities with buildings often arranged in concentric circles... in what is now Romania, Ukraine and Moldova.
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