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2019-09-12 15:31:50   •   ID: 2126

An incomplete look on the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture

Figure 1-3
These are typical artifacts from the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, including painted ceramics and typical arrowheads from the Dniester river valley

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture is a Neolithic–Eneolithic archaeological culture (ca. 4800 to 2800 BC) in Eastern Europe.

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture is commonly divided into an Early, Middle, Late period, with varying smaller sub-divisions marked by changes in settlement and material culture. A key point of contention lies in how these phases correspond to radiocarbon data.

The following chart represents this most current interpretation:

  • Early (Pre-Cucuteni I-III to Cucuteni A-B, Trypillia A to Trypillia BI-II): 4800 to 4000 BC
  • Middle (Cucuteni B, Trypillia BII to CI-II): 4000 to 3500 BC
  • Late (Horodiştea-Folteşti, Trypillia CII): 3500 to 3000 BC

The emergence of this complex in the Transcarpathia and in the Dniester basin is dated to the late sixth and early fifth millennia BC and is related to such cultures as the Linearbandkeramik (LBK), Boian, Criş and Hamangia and Vinča.

It extends from the Carpathian Mountains to the Dniester and Dnieper regions, centered on modern-day Moldova and covering substantial parts of western Ukraine and north-eastern Romania, encompassing an area of some 350,000 km2.

The early Cucuteni-Trypillian settlements consisted of high-density, small settlements, concentrated mainly in the Siret, Prut, and Dniester river valleys. Villages covered an area of 0.5–6 ha and contained no more than fifteen dwellings.

Figure 2
This phase is followed by settlements of 20–40 ha in size consisting of around two hundred dwellings and a late phase with the mega-site phenomenon, when areas up to 300 ha were settled by about 15,000 inhabitants (Müller et al. 2016).

The Cucuteni-Trypillian people built the largest settlements in Neolithic Europe and Megasites, such as Talianki in the Uman district of Ukraine, were as large as (or perhaps even larger than) the more famous city-states of Sumer predating Sumerian cities by more than half of a millennium.

One of the most notable aspects of this culture was the periodic destruction of settlements, with each single-habitation site having a roughly 60 to 80 year lifetime.

The purpose of burning these settlements is a subject of debate among scholars; some of the settlements were reconstructed several times on top of earlier habitation levels, preserving the shape and the orientation of the older buildings.

Many researchers suggest a religious background, maybe connected with some kind of funerary ritual: it has been noted that there have been very few discoveries of funerary objects, and very few cemeteries attributed to the culture.

Perhaps the burning of the settlements truly was how the Cucuteni-Tripolye “buried” and honored their dead. Rather than creating a tomb where the deceased could be interred with important objects, the home that the deceased had lived in became their tomb, and they entered the afterlife with the objects they possessed during their earthly life. (MR Reese 2015).

Although, human skeletons of the Cucuteni-Trypillian are rare, mtDNA haplogroup diversity found in the Cucuteni-Trypillian remains at Verteba (Ukraine) is characteristic for a group of European Neolithic farmers tracing their maternal genetic roots from Anatolia with little or no admixture with indigenous hunter-gatherers (Nikitin et al 2017).

Cucuteni-Trypillian society as a whole is based on pastoralists and subsistence farmers who run a simple economy, not very different to other groups in South-East Europe.

Figure 3
The disappearance of the Cucuteni-Trypillian Mega-sites is enigmatic. Maybe the occupation density exceeded the limit of social or ecological sustainability. Anyhow there are no indications that the social organization was terminated by armed conflicts.

What makes the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture unique in the Neolithic Europe is:

  • An almost nonexistent social stratification
  • An obvious lack of a political and religious elite

How could the Megasite phenomenon be integrated in a balanced social constitution? Maybe the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture was an acephalous, non-stratified, society lacking political leaders or hierarchies.

Typically these societies are small-scale, organized into lineages, that make decisions through consensus decision making rather than appointing permanent "big man" to settle the societies affairs.

The lack of monumental architecture and the paucity of prestige goods, together with an undeveloped mortuary domain in which to display differences in social status, constitute the main arguments against a permanent, ranked socio- political organization for the Trypillia population. More likely, an inter-regional decision-making political body developed during collective gathering events for the seasonal megasite co-ordination of a generally egalitarian society.(Nebbia 2018)

Suggested Reading:

Trypillia Mega-Sites and European Prehistory: 4100-3400 BCE (Themes in Contemporary Archaeology) (S.XXI). Taylor and Francis 2016.

J. Müller et al: The social constitution and political organisation of Tripolye mega-sites: hierarchy and balance. In Tagungen des Landesmuseums für Vorgeschichte Halle Band18|2018

D.W. Anthony: Lost World of Old Europe 2009