Trypillian culture: Wikis


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The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, also known as Cucuteni culture (from Romanian), Trypillian culture (from Ukrainian) or Tripolie culture (from Russian), is a late Neolithic archaeological culture which flourished between ca. 5500 BC and 2750 BC, from the Carpathian Mountains to the Dniester and Dnieper regions in modern-day Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine, encompassing an area of more than 35,000 km2 (13,500 square miles).[1] At its peak the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture built the largest Neolithic settlements in Europe, some of which had populations of up to 15,000 inhabitants[2]. One of the most notable aspects of this culture was that every 60 to 80 years the inhabitants of a settlement would burn their entire village.[3] The reason for the burning of the settlements is a subject of debate among scholars; many of the settlements were reconstructed several times on top of earlier ones, preserving the shape and the orientation of the older buildings. One example of this, at the Poduri, Romania site, revealed a total of thirteen habitation levels that were constructed on top of each other over a period of many years.[3]



The culture was initially named after the village of Cucuteni, located in Iaşi County, Romania, where the first objects associated with it were discovered. Cucuteni is close to the city of Iaşi, which is one of the centres of culture and higher education in Romania (having the oldest university in the country), including a large academic community. In 1884, one of these Iaşi scholars, the folklorist and teacher Teodor T. Burada, visited the tell (hill-shaped ruins) located next to the village of Cucuteni. During his visit he unearthed some beautiful pottery and terracotta figurines from the ruins. After he had shown his findings to some of the other Iaşi academicians, a team of explorers (including Theodor Burada, the poet Nicolae Beldiceanu, archeologists Grigore Butureanu, Dimitrie C. Butculescu and George Diamandi) decided to carry out further explorations on the ancient site, and subsequently the first archeological diggings at Cucuteni were begun in the spring of 1885.[4]

The findings of this initial work were announced to the scientific world through articles written in 1885 by Beldiceanu, 'Antichităţile de la Cucuteni' (The Antiquities at Cucuteni)[5], and in 1889 by Butureanu, 'Notita asupra sapaturilor si cercetarilor facute la Cucuteni' (Note on the Diggings and Research at Cucuteni). In 1889 two Romanian scholars travelled to Paris to present papers about the Cucuteni findings at two separate conferences held in that city during the same year. Butureanu presented a paper which was very well received at the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archaeology, which included the famous archeologist Heinrich Schliemann.[4] Diamandi then presented a paper at the meeting of La Société d’Anthropologie de Paris (The Society of Anthropology of Paris).[6] Thus the international academic world became aware of a society of large farming communities in south-east Europe which existed either at the same time as or before the earliest-known civilizations in the Middle East.

Simultaneously, around 1887[7], (possibly 1893 [8] or 1896[9]), the Czech archaeologist Vicenty Khvoika uncovered the first of close to one hundred Cucuteni-Trypillian settlements in Ukraine.[10] Khvoika announced this discovery at the 11th Congress of Archaeologists in 1897, which is considered the official date of the discovery of the Trypillian culture in Ukraine.[7][8] In 1897 similar objects were excavated in the village of Trypillia (Ukrainian: Трипiлля), in the Kiev Oblast province, in Ukraine. As a result, this culture became identified in Soviet, Russian, and Ukrainian publications as the 'Tripolie', 'Tripolian' or 'Trypillian' culture. Serious excavation and study of these Ukrainian sites began in earnest in 1909.

Anthropomorphic Cucuteni-Trypillian clay figure

Owing to the fact that study and excavation of these sites were being conducted by two separate groups, it wasn't until later that scholars recognized that both the Romanian 'Cucuteni' and the Ukrainian 'Trypillian' sites were the same ancient culture. By this time there had already been large amounts of written material that gave this culture with one of these two names. To further complicate things, there was a considerable amount of nationalistic pride associated with these archeological sites, neither the Ukrainian nor Romanian scholars wanting to surrender their claim to this national heritage. To resolve this dilemma, a compromise was reached that combined the two terms in the English name Cucuteni-Trypillian. This term is used here in this article. However it should be borne in mind that when reading from other sources, both print and online, one may still encounter frequent references to this culture that use the other terms associated with it. The important thing to remember is that, regardless of whether the term Cucuteni, Trypillian, or Tripolie is being used, it is the same culture that is being talked about.[11]


Members of this culture belonged to tribal social groups, scattered over an area of southeast Europe encompassing territories in present-day Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. The important physical features of the land were rolling plains, river valleys, the Black Sea, and the Carpathian Mountains, which were covered by a mixed forest in the west, that gave way to the open grasslands of the steppes in the east. The climate during the time that this culture flourished has been named the Holocene climatic optimum, and featured cool, wet winters and warm, moist summers. These conditions would have created a very favorable climate for agriculture in this region.

As of 2003, about 3000[3] sites of Cucuteni-Trypillian culture have been identified. J. P. Mallory reports that the "…culture is attested from well over a thousand sites in the form of everything from small villages to vast settlements consisting of hundreds of dwellings surrounded by multiple ditches."[12]


The table below uses data from Cornelia-Magda Mantu's 1998 Cultura Cucuteni: evoluţie, cronologie, legături (Cucuteni culture: evolution, chronology, connections) as a reference for the various chronological designations that were assigned to both the Cucuteni and the Trypillian cultures independently during the 20th Century.[13]

Cucuteni Years B.C. Trypillian Years B.C.
Precucuteni I-III 5100-4600 Trypillian A 4800-4500
Cucuteni A1-A4 4600-4050 Trypillian BI-BII 4500-4000
Cucuteni A/B 4100-3800 Trypillian BII 4000-3800
Cucuteni B 3800-3500 Trypillian CI-CII 3800-3500

Another periodization has been assigned to this culture that breaks it down into three main eras:.[3]

• Early: 5500 to 4600 B.C.
• Middle:    4600 to 3200 B.C.
• Late:    3200 to 2600 B.C.

There are two reasons for why there are discrepanciens in Cucuteni-Trypillian periodization: the first is due to it being done by separate scholars, and the second due to changes in how archeological typology is done as new methods and technologies were employed to analyze ancient cultural artifacts.[3]

Throughout the duration of this culture there is evidence of technological development and expansion of the geographical region, as new settlements were built in previously-unsettled areas. Towards the end of the culture's existence increasing evidence is found that attests to trade and interaction with other cultures that were using copper artifacts.[3]



In terms of overall size, some of Cucuteni-Trypillian sites, such as Talianki (with a population of 15,000 and covering an area of some 450 hectares – 1100 acres) in the province of Uman Raion, Ukraine, are as large as (or perhaps even larger than) the more famous city-states of Sumer in the Fertile Crescent, and these Eastern European settlements predate the Sumerian cities by more than half of a millennium. [14]

Archaeologists have uncovered an astonishing wealth of artifacts from these ancient ruins. The largest collections of Cucuteni-Trypillian artifacts are to be found in museums in Russia, Ukraine, and Romania, including the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Archaeology Museum Piatra Neamţ in Romania. However, smaller collections of artifacts are kept in many local museums scattered throughout the region.[15]

These settlements underwent periodical acts of destruction and re-creation, as they were burned and then rebuilt every 60–80 years. Some scholars have theorized that the inhabitants of these settlements believed that every house symbolized an organic, almost living, entity. Each house, including its ceramic vases, ovens, figurines and innumerable objects made of perishable materials, shared the same circle of life, and all of the buildings in the settlement were physically linked together as a larger symbolic entity. As with living beings, the settlements may have been seen as also having a life cycle of death and rebirth.[16]

The houses of the Cucuteni-Trypillian settlements were constructed in several general ways:

Some Cucuteni-Trypillian homes were two-storeys tall, and evidence shows that the members of this culture sometimes decorated the outsides of their homes with many of the same red-ochre complex swirling designs that are to be found on their pottery. Most houses had thatched roofs and wooden floors covered with clay.[14]

Interior reconstruction of a Cucuteni-Trypillian house in the Archaeology Museum Piatra Neamţ, Romania.
Reconstruction of a Cucuteni-Trypillian hut, in the Tripillian Museum, Trypillia, Ukraine.
A scale reproduction of a Cucuteni-Trypillian village.


Cucuteni-Trypillian sites have yielded substantial evidence to prove that the inhabitants practiced agriculture, raised domestic livestock, and hunted wild animals for food. Archaeological evidence also indicates that primitive plowing was done by the farmers of the Cucuteni-Trypillian settlements. Cultivating the soil, tending livestock, and harvesting the crops were probably the main occupations of most of the members of this society. There is also evidence that they may have raised bees.[17] Although wine grapes were cultivated by these people, there is no solid evidence to date to prove that they actually made wine from them. The cereal grains were ground and baked as unleavened bread in clay ovens or on heated stones in the hearth fireplace in the house.

The archaeological remains of animals found at Cucuteni-Trypillian sites indicate that the inhabitants practiced animal husbandry.[18] The remains of dogs have also been found. Archaeologists have uncovered both the remains as well as artistic depictions of the horse in Cucuteni-Trypillian sites. However, whether these finds were of domesticated or wild horses is a matter of some debate.[19]

In addition to farming and raising livestock, members of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture supplemented their diet with hunting. They used traps to catch their prey, as well as various weapons, including the bow-and-arrow, the spear, and clubs. To help them in stalking game, they sometimes disguised themselves with camouflage.[19]

Ritual and religion

A typical Cucuteni-Trypillian clay "Goddess" fetish

Some Cucuteni-Trypillian communities have been found that contain a special building located in the center of the settlement, which archaeologists have identified as sacred sanctuaries. Artifacts have been found inside these sanctuaries, some of them having been intentionally buried in the ground within the structure, that are clearly of a religious nature, and have provided insights into some of the beliefs, and perhaps some of the rituals and structure, of the members of this society. Additionally, artifacts of an apparent religious nature have also been found within many domestic Cucuteni-Trypillian homes.

Many of these artifacts are clay figurines or statues. Archaeologists have identified many of these as fetishes or totems, which are believed to be imbued with powers that can help and protect the people who look after them.[20] These Cucuteni-Trypillian figurines have become known popularly as Goddesses, however, this term is not necessarily accurate for all female anthropomorphic clay figurines, as the archaeological evidence suggests that different figurines were used for different purposes (such as for protection), and so are not all representative of a Goddess.[20] There have been so many of these figurines discovered in Cucuteni-Trypillian sites[20] that many museums in eastern Europe have a sizeable collection of them, and as a result, they have come to represent one of the more readily-identifiable visual markers of this culture to many people.

The noted archaeologist Marija Gimbutas based at least part of her famous Kurgan Hypothesis and Old European culture theories on these Cucuteni-Trypillian clay figurines. Her conclusions, which were always controversial, today are discredited by many scholars,[20] but still there are some scholars who support her theories about how Neolithic societies were matriarchal, non-warlike, and worshipped an "earthy" Mother Goddess, but were subsequently wiped out by invasions of patriarchal Indo-European tribes who burst out of the Steppes of Russia and Kazakhstan beginning around 2500 B.C., and who worshiped a warlike Sky God.[21] However, Gimbutas' theories have been partially discredited by more recent discoveries and analyses.[22] Today there are many scholars who disagree with Gimbutas, pointing to new evidence that suggests a much more complex society during the Neolithic era than she had been accounting for.[23]

One of the unanswered questions regarding the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture is the small number of artifacts associated with funerary rites. Although very large settlements have been explored by archaeologists, the evidence for mortuary activity is almost invisible. Making a distinction between the eastern Tripolye and the western Cucuteni regions of the Cucuteni-Trypillian geographical area, American archaeologist Douglass W. Bailey writes:

There are no Cucuteni cemeteries and the Tripolye ones that have been discovered are very late.[20](p115)

The discovery of skulls is more frequent then other parts of the body, however because there has not yet been a comprehensive statistical survey done of all of the skeletal remains discovered at Cucuteni-Trypillian sites, precise post excavation analysis of these discoveries cannot be accurately determined at this time. Still, many questions remain concerning these issues, as well as why there seems to have been no male remains found at all.[24] The only definite conclusion that can be drawn from archeological evidence is that in the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, in the vast majority of cases, the bodies were not formally deposited within the settlement area.[20](p116)

Technological developments

At its height, the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture would have been one of the most technologically-advanced societies on earth, producing woven textiles, exquisitely-fine and beautifully-decorated ceramics, and a wide variety of tools and weapons, as well as developing large-scale salt production, new house construction methods, and agricultural and animal husbandry techniques.

Salt Works

What may well be the world's oldest saltworks was discovered at the Poiana Slatinei archaeological site next to a salt spring in Lunca, Neamt County, Romania. Archaeological evidence indicates that salt production began there as long ago as 6050 BC., making it perhaps the oldest known saltworks in the world.[25] Evidence based on discoveries in Solca, Cacica, Lunca, Oglinzi, and Cucuieţi, indicates that the people of the Precucuteni Culture were extracting salt from the salt-laden spring-water through the process of Briquetage. First, the brackish water from the spring was boiled in large pottery vessels, producing a dense brine. The brine was then heated in a ceramic briquetage vessel until all moisture was evaporated, with the remaining crystallized salt adhering to the inside walls of the vessel. Then the briquetage vessel was broken open, and the salt was scraped from the shards.[26]

The salt extracted from this operation may have had a direct correlation to the rapid growth of this society's population soon after its initial production began.[27] Salt from this operation probably played a very important role in the Neolithic economy of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture through its entire duration.


One of the most recognizable aspects of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture is the incredible pottery that its people produced.[3] Borrowing from the Linear Pottery culture, the Cucuteni-Trypillian potters made improvements, mastering the modeling and temperature control of the manufacturing process, and decorating the clayware with a genuine and well-developed aesthetic sense of artistry.[28]

There have been a seeming countless number of ceramic artifacts discovered in various Cucuteni-Trypillian archaeological sites over the years, which include pottery in many shapes and sizes, statues and figurines of both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic patterns, tools, implements, weights, and even furniture. It would be impossible to imagine this culture without its ceramic objects.[29]


The lavishly-decorated pottery suggests that the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture created textiles that were exceedingly beautiful[30]. climate in the region is not conducive to the preservation of the textiles, and as a result, no examples of preserved textiles have yet to be found. However, there are textile impressions commonly found etched into pottery shards before firing that clearly show that woven fabrics were prevalent in Cucuteni-Trypillian society[31][32]. Additionally, there is evidence in the form of ceramic weights that would have been used to weight down the warp threads during weaving to substantiate that primitive looms were used by this culture.[33]

Weapons and tools

Many tools, weights, and accessories have been found at the Cucuteni-Trypillian sites. Among these artifacts are clubs, harpoons, spear and arrow points for use in hunting and fishing, made from an assortment of materials, including stone, bone, antler, wood, leather, clay, sinew, straw, and cloth. Towards the end of this culture's existence, a number of copper weapons and tools began to appear. However, there has been only a very few weapons found that were designed for defense against human enemies. The implications of this seem to lead to the conclusion that the inhabitants of this culture lived with very little threat from possible enemy attack for almost 3000 years.[34]

Vinča-Tordos Script

The mainstream academic view holds that writing first appeared during the Sumerian civilization in southern Mesopotamia, around 3300-3200 B.C. in the form of the Cuneiform script. This first writing system did not suddenly appear out of nowhere, but gradually developed from less stylized pictographic systems that used ideographic and mnemonic symbols that contained meaning, but did not have the linguistic flexibility of the natural language writing system that the Sumerians first conceived. These earlier symbolic systems have been labeled as Proto-writing, examples of which have been discovered in a variety of places around the world, some dating back to the 7th Milennium B.C.[35]

One such early example of a proto-writing system is the Vinča script, which is a set of symbols depicted on clay artifacts associated with the Vinča culture, which flourished along the Danube River in the Pannonian Plain, between 6000-4000 B.C. The first discovery of this script occurred at the archaeological site in the village of Turdaş, Romania (which was known at the time as Tordos), and consisted of a collection of artifacts that had what appeared to be an unknown system of writing. In 1908, more of these same kind of artifacts were discovered at a site near Vinča, outside of the city of Belgrade, Serbia. Scholars subsequently labeled this the "Vinča Script" or "Vinča-Tordos Script". There is a considerable amount of controversy surrounding the Vinča script as to how old it is, as well as whether it should be considered as an actual writing system, an example of proto-writing, or just a collection of meaningful symbols. Indeed, the entire subject regarding every aspect of the Vinča script is fraught with controversy.[35]

Beginning in 1875 up to the present, archaeologists have found than a thousand Neolithic era clay artifacts that have examples of symbols similar to the Vinča script scattered widely throughout south-eastern Europe. This includes the remarkable discoveries of what appear to be barter tokens, which were used as an early form of currency. Thus it appears that the Vinča or Vinča-Tordos script is not restricted to just the region around Belgrade, which is where the Vinča culture existed, but that it was spread across most of southeastern Europe, and was used throughout the geographical region of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture. As a result of this widespread use of this set of symbolic representations, historian Marco Merlini has suggested that it be given a name other than the Vinča script, since this implies that it was only used among the Vinča culture around the Pannonian Plain, at the very western edge of the extensive area where examples of this symbolic system have been discovered. Merlini has proposed naming this system the Danube Script, which some scholars have begun to accept[35]. However, even this name change would not be extensive enough, since it does not cover the region in Ukraine, as well as the Balkans, where examples of these symbols are also found. Whatever name is used, however (Vinča script, Vinča-Tordos script, Vinča symbols, Danube script, or Old European script), it is likely that it is the same system.[35]


Throughout the 2750 years of its existence, the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture was fairly stable and static, however, there were changes that took place. This article addresses some of these changes that have to do with the economic aspects. These include the basic economic conditions of the culture, the development of trade, interaction with other cultures, and the apparent use of barter tokens, an early form of money.

Members of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture shared common features with other Neolithic societies, including:

Earlier societies of hunter gatherer tribes had no social stratification, and later societies of the Bronze Age had noticeable social stratification, which saw the creation of occupational specialization, the sovereign state, and social classes of individuals who were of the elite ruling or religious classes, full-time warriors, and wealthy merchants, contrasted with those individuals on the other end of the economic spectrum who were poor, enslaved, and hungry. In between these two economic models (the hunter gatherer tribes and Bronze Age civilizations) we find the later Neolithic and Eneolithic societies such as the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, where the first indications of social stratification began to be found. However, it would be a mistake to overemphasize the impact of social stratification in the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, since it was still (even in its later phases) very much an egalitarian society. And of course, social stratification was just one of the many aspects of what is regarded as a fully-established civilized society, which began to appear in the Bronze Age.[15]

Like other Neolithic societies, the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture had almost no division of labor. Although this culture's settlements sometimes grew to become that largest on earth at the time (up to 15,000 people in the largest), there is no evidence that has been discovered of labor specialization. Every household probably had members of the extended family who would work in the fields to raise crops, go to the woods to hunt game and bring back firewood, work by the river to bring back clay or fish, and all of the other duties that would be needed to survive. Contrary to popular belief, the Neolithic people experienced considerable abundance of food and other resources.[1] Since every household was almost entirely self-sufficient, there was very little need for trade. There were, as is mentioned elsewhere in this article, certain mineral resources that, because of limitations due to distance and prevalence, did form the rudimentary foundation for a trade network that towards the end of the culture began to develop into a more complex system, as is attested to by an increasing number of artifacts from other cultures that have been dated to the latter period.[22]

Toward the end of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture's existence (from roughly 3000 B.C. to 2750 B.C.), copper traded from other societies (notably, from the Balkans) began to appear throughout the region, and members of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture began to acquire skills necessary to use it to create various items. Along with the raw copper ore, finished copper tools, hunting weapons and other artifacts were also brought in from other cultures.[1] This marked the transition from the Neolithic to the Eneolithic, also known as the Chalcolithic or Copper Age. Bronze artifacts began to show up in archaeological sites toward the very end of the culture. The primitive trade network of this society, that had been slowly growing more complex, was abruptly ended, along with the culture that supported it, when Proto-Indo-Europeans invaders moved in to conquer the land.[1]

Decline and end

The Kurgan hypothesis (also theory or model), proposed by Marija Gimbutas in 1956, is one of the proposals about early Indo-European origins, theory combining archaeology with linguistics, which postulates that the people of an archaeological Kurgan culture (a term grouping the Pit Grave culture and its predecessors) in the Pontic steppe were the most likely speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language.[36]

Gimbutas proposed the theory that the expansions of the Kurgan culture was a series of essentially hostile military conquest undertaken by the patriarchal, warlike Kurgan culture over the peaceful, matriarchal cultures of "Old Europe",[37] a process visible in the appearance of fortified settlements and hillforts and the graves of warrior-chieftains:

"The process of Indo-Europeanization was a cultural, not a physical, transformation. It must be understood as a military victory in terms of successfully imposing a new administrative system, language, and religion upon the indigenous groups."[38]

The Kurgan Hypothesis holds that this violent conquest would have taken place during the Third Wave of Kurgan expansion, between 3000-2800 B.C.

However, in the 1980s another theory, using more current archaeological evidence as support, appeared that contradicted Gimbutas' Kurgan Hypothesis. In 1989 Irish-American archaeologist J.P. Mallory published a groundbreaking book called In Search of the Indo-Europeans, in which he used the data from archaeological sites in the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture's region to demonstrate that part of the Kurgan culture (which he refers to by their more accepted name of Yamna culture) established settlements throughout the entire Cucuteni-Trypillian culture's area, and that these two cultures lived side-by-side for over 2000 years of their existence before the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture finally ended.[22] Artifacts from both cultures are found within each of their respective archaeological settlement sites, attesting to an open trade that took place between them.[22] Additionally, the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture sites during this entire period indicate that there were no weapons found, nor were there indications of violent killings of people that would be commonplace if there had been warfare or raiding taking place. The conclusion that Mallory reached was that there was a gradual transformation that took place, instead of a violent conquest.[22]

Finally, in the 1990s and 2000s, another theory regarding the end of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture emerged based on a devastating climatic change that took place at the end of their culture's existence that is known as the Blytt-Sernander#Sub-Boreal phase. Beginning around 3200 B.C. the earth's climate became colder and drier than it had ever been since the end of the last Ice age, resulting in the worst drought in the history of Europe since the beginning of agriculture.[39] The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture relied primarily on farming, which would have collapsed under these climatic conditions in a scenario similar to the Dust Bowl of the American Midwest in the 1930s.[40]

According to The American Geographical Union, "The transition to today's arid climate was not gradual, but occurred in two specific episodes. The first, which was less severe, occurred between 6,700 and 5,500 years ago. The second, which was brutal, lasted from 4,000 to 3,600 years ago. Summer temperatures increased sharply, and precipitation decreased, according to carbon-14 dating. This event devastated ancient civilizations and their socio-economic systems."[41]

However, the neighboring Yamna culture people were pastoralists, and were able to maintain their survival much more effectively in drought conditions. This has led some scholars to come to the conclusion that the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture ended not from a violent military conquest, nor a gradual assimilation, but as a matter of survival, converting from agriculture to pastoralism, and becoming integrated into the Yamna culture.[42][15][43][44][45]


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See also

External links


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