The last phase of the Tripolye Culture in Ukraine: new developments of East/West patterns of human interaction in the 4th-3rd millennia cal BC. 


Introduction: The Tripolye Culture (also know as Cucuteni in Rumania and Moldavia) is one of the most striking phenomena of the Eneolithic (also known as Chalcolithic) in the Eastern European plains. Tripolye settlements covered a very large territory, which included present days Rumania, Moldavia and Ukraine, spanning from the 6th to the early-3rd millennia BC.

The Tripolye Culture is best known for its exquisite multicolour ceramic (Figs. 1, 2), anthropomorphic clay figurines (Figs. 3, 4) and miniature models of houses (Fig. 5), but, one of the most intriguing mysteries of this culture are the so-called giant settlements in Ukraine. These agglomerates of houses (of oval shape) cover a surface that varies from 60 to 350 hectares. The largest Tripolye settlement is that of Talianki (350ha) (Fig. 6ab), located in the Cherkassi District between the rivers Juzhny Bug and Dniper. It is indeed in this area (Uman and Talnek regions) that the majority of giant settlements are situated, and the most important ones (11 villages) are part of the recently formed Tripolye Reservation. The importance of this reservation does not only lie in the presence of these settlements, but also in its geographical location. In fact, because of its exclusively fertile soil and the presence of fairly large woodlands, it offered an ideal environment for agriculture, cattle-breeding and livestock activity. The favourable environmental conditions of this region facilitated the development of these extremely large settlements, especially between ca. 3900 and 3,300 cal BC (late BII to late CI Passek periodisation).

One of most recurrent questions within the Tripolye Culture research scholars is the reason why these enormous settlements underwent an exemplary development in the above-mentioned period first, and then they started to decline inexorably, until they disappeared towards the end of the 4th millennium cal BC.

This project, which is carried out in collaboration with the Institute of Archaeology of the Ukraine Academy of Science in Kiev was especially set up to find plausible answers to these intriguing issues.


Research objectives: The project has the following objectives: 1) to find out the reason of the Tripolye Culture decline at the very beginning of the 3rd millennium cal BC; 2) was there any cultural influence from outside that triggered the disappearance?; 3) what happened to the large Tripolye population?; 4) did the 3rd millennium cal BC Westward migrations (in Ukraine) really happen? The project is furthermore of vital importance to clarify strategic aspects of agricultural activity (similarities or/and differences) between Eastern and Western regions of Europe in the Neolithic/Chalcolithic.


Strategy: The first phase of the project includes two crucial field seasons: 2007 and 2008. In order to find plausible answers the above-listed objectives, it is important to collect as many environmental data as possible. We will therefore proceed as follows: various small test-excavations will be carried out, throughout the next two years, in all of the 11 giant settlements (namely: Talainki; Dobrovoda; Kasenovka; Apolonka; Maidanietzke; Peshane; Veselly-Kut; Onopriifka; Vilshivetz; Chicherkosiuka and Glibochiok) of the Tripolye Reservation. Stratigraphic soil samples as well as thin-sections will be obtained from each site and, through palynological, osteological and geological analyses, a clear picture of the Chalcolithic environmental and climatic conditions will be drawn. At the same time, comparative analyses (literature reviews and laboratory work) of local as well as external (Northern Steppes, Eastern and central Europe) contemporary archaeological assemblages will be carried out to study eventual trade links or/and cultural interaction and migrations. The mutual collaboration between the institute of Prehistory and Archaeological Science (IPNA), Basel University and the Institute of Archaeology of the Ukraine Academy of Science in Kiev is facilitated by the similar and compatible research approaches that both Institutes have.



Fig. 1 Tripolye vase found at Peshane, Ukraine



Fig. 2 Tripolye vase found at Peshane, Ukraine



Fig. 3 Tripolye anthropomorphic figurine found at Peshane, Ukraine



Fig. 4 Tripolye anthropomorphic figurine found at Talianki, Ukraine



Fig. 5 Tripolye miniature clay model of a house found at Peshane, Ukraine



Fig. 6 A) Plan of the Talianki settlement, Ukraine; B) two excavated houses of the settlement


Photographs: Dr. A.G. Korvin-Piotrovski