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A Trip through Trypillya 

 

 

Trypilian culture (Trypil'ska kultura) is the Ukrainian name given to a Neolithic population whose culture once flourished on the ethnically Ukrainian territories of present-day Ukraine, Moldova, and the northeast area of Romania. The Romanian name for this culture is the "Cucuteni". Both names derive from the villages where artifacts from the time were first discovered in Ukraine and in Romania, respectively. The Trypillya site is near Kyiv, and the Cucuteni site is near Iasi in Romania, close to the Moldovian border. The Cucuteni site is on the Prut River near Iasi and was discovered in 1884 and excavated in 1901-10 by Hubert Schmidt, then again in 1961-65 by M. Petrescu-Dimbovita. Many other sites in and near Ukraine have been found and excavated. Trypillya culture flourished as a result of the advance of ancient farmers from the Balkan mountains to the Southeast. It existed in the huge territory stretching from the Precarpathian area in the West to the middle reaches of the Dnieper river in the East, predominantly in the forest-steppe region. The earliest evidence of Trypilian culture is found on both sides of the middle Dniester and Boh rivers as well as the upper and middle Prut and Siret rivers in western Ukraine, and in Moldova (formerly Romania). Ultimately, Trypilian culture extended from the lands east of the Dnipro river (Dnieper) near present-day Kyiv through the southwest steppe areas of Ukraine, and to an area just southwest the Siret river (in present-day Romania). 

The tribes of Trypillya lived in the Copper Age. Their beliefs were linked with the cults of fertility and of their ancestors. Farming of arable land and animal husbandry were their major occupations. They lived in above-ground dwellings and were capable of processing copper, constructing dwellings of timber and clay, manufacturing firm kilned pottery, weaving fabrics, and more. 
At present, there are 2000 known monuments to Trypillya culture in Ukraine — settlements, burials grounds and burial mounds. Archeologists have been studying Trypillya civilization for more than a century, and in the course of these studies have been able to reconstruct the ancient history, crafts, tools, premises, traditions and spiritual aspects of life of this culture. 
The Trypillian population's primary deity was female, and their culture developed rich and complex artistic symbols rooted in their religious beliefs based on the Great Goddess and her various aspects as Giver-of-Life, Wielder of Death, and Regeneratrix. This symbolic system reflects the natural, yet "represents cyclical, non-linear, mythical time." 
Consequently, Trypillian culture had a matriarchal clan order. Women did agricultural work, headed households, manufactured pottery, textiles and clothing and had a leading role in society. Men hunted, kept domestic animals, and prepared tools of flint, stone and bone.

 

The indigenous population of Trypilian culture maintained direct or indirect ties with many highly developed cultures of the time, carrying out economic and cultural exchanges with the Caucasus, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor, and especially with Troy, located on the territory of present-day Turkey. 
Meanwhile, the Trypilians established especially close links and even affinity with the Balkans, Crete and other islands of the Aegean Sea where the Aegean or Cretan-Minoan culture flourished. There are grounds to assert that a single cultural space "from Kyiv to Crete" existed as early as several thousand years before the new era.
The Trypilian language was reconstructed by comparing ancient words which had been retained in the Slavic and Greek languages, with material artifacts of Trypilian and Aegean cultures. Its main feature was the prevalence of words with open syllables. Traces of exactly the same language structure were found on Crete, in Asia Minor and even in Mesopotamia. In this area, the oldest population was the Sumers, who learned agriculture, metalworking, architecture, literacy and certain myths and also spoke a language made up exclusively of open syllables. Thus representatives of Trypilian culture spoke a particular kind of the oldest language characteristic of the Black Sea-Mediterranean region.
The Trypilian language it thought to have given birth to such words as holub (pigeon), horokh (beans), horikh (nuts), zalizo (iron, which then apparently denoted copper), kobyla (horse), mohyla (grave), and the names of certain deities like Kupala, Ladu, and Marena.

 

Artifacts of this culture consist most notably of terra cotta pottery and bichrome and trichrome painting using predominately black, red, and white mineral-based paints. The quality of painting surpasses all the contemporary creations from other areas of Europe. A terra cotta scale-model of a two-storied building was found at a Trypillya site in Ukraine. Excavation at Cucuteni showed that this was a representation of an actual two-story structure from this culture.
Female forms and figurines (many painted or incised, some with fertile-field symbols), as well as various animals and zoomorphous vessels, sleighs, all scale-modeled in terra cotta or clay, have also been found. The finer, more elaborate forms (figurines, pots, jars, bowls, amphorae, and two-bowled joined vessels) were ornamented with painted or incised lines, spirals and egg-shaped motifs, and other shapes and line elements such as parallel or cross-hatched lines in enclosed fields, and zig-zags with or without hooks. There were also articles of everyday use such as spindle whorls and loom weights, and everyday gray pottery made of undecorated clay mixed with sand and small broken shells. 
Interestingly, impressions of plain even-weave cloth and pattern-woven textiles have been found on the bottoms of some Trypilian pottery, indicating that the pottery has been set to air-dry on that woven cloth before being fired. These lands are known to have grown flax (linen) and hemp since time immemorial. This workaday use of even-weave fabric, the clay spindle whorls and loom weights all indicate that this population was agrarian, with well-developed textile crafts of spinning, weaving, and very likely needlework, which was used to join cloth and make clothing. No actual cloth has survived from that culture to our time; however, the symbols that are found on the artifacts of Trypillya and those associated with the Great Goddess have persisted into the present in most Ukrainian folk art, especially pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs) and textile arts, including Ukrainian folk embroidery.

 

“Internal crisis of the Trypilian society was influenced by events in neighboring territories. Large scale migration towards the north and the west was noticed in the steppe region. During the second half, third quarter of the 4th Century B.C. Trypilian villages already had disappeared. More orientation towards cattle breeding led to a total change in livelihood and material well being and value system in such a way that the cultures after Trypillya did not bear any aspects of the latter.”

K.P. Buntyan, V.Y. Murzin, O.V. Simonenko 
At the dawn of History, Vol. 1, Kyiv-1998. — pg.71.

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