Cucuteni-Trypillian culture

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Map showing the approximate maximal extent of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture (all periods)[1]
Eneolithic, Aeneolithic
Copper Age
Stone Age

Near East

Naqada culture Uruk period, Halaf culture


Pit Grave culture, Corded Ware
Cernavodă culture, Decea Mureşului culture, Gorneşti culture, Gumelniţa–Karanovo culture, Petreşti culture, Usatovo culture
Remedello culture, Gaudo culture


Ahar-Banas culture, Jorwe



Metallurgy, Wheel,
Domestication of the horse,

Bronze Age

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture (known as Cucuteni in Romanian and Trypilska Трипільська, Tripolskaya Трипольская in Ukrainian and Russian after the respective type sites), is a NeolithicEneolithic archaeological culture (ca. 4800 to 3000 BC) in Eastern Europe.

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 northeastern Romania, encompassing an area of some 350,000 km2 (140,000 sq mi), with a diameter of some 500 km (300 mi; roughly from Kiev in the northeast to Brasov in the southwest).[2][3]

The majority of Cucuteni-Trypillian settlements consisted of high-density, small settlements (spaced 3 to 4 kilometers apart), concentrated mainly in the Siret, Prut, and Dniester river valleys.[4] During the Middle Trypillia phase (ca. 4000 to 3500 BC), populations belonging to the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture built the largest settlements in Neolithic Europe, some of which contained as many as 1,600 structures.[5]

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.[6] 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 habitational levels, preserving the shape and the orientation of the older buildings. One particular location, the Poduri site (Romania), revealed thirteen habitation levels that were constructed on top of each other over many years.[6]


The culture was initially named after the village of Cucuteni in Iaşi County, Romania. In 1884 Teodor T. Burada visited the tell (a hill or mound formed by long-term human occupation) there and found fragments of pottery and terracotta figurines. Burada and other scholars from Iaşi, including the poet Nicolae Beldiceanu and archeologists Grigore Butureanu, Dimitrie C. Butculescu and George Diamandy, subsequently began the first excavations at Cucuteni in the spring of 1885.[7] Their findings were published in 1885[8] and 1889,[9] and presented in two international conferences in 1889, both in Paris: at the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archaeology by Butureanu[7] and at a meeting of the Société d’Anthropologie de Paris by Diamandi.[10]

The first Ukrainian sites ascribed to the culture were discovered by Vicenty Khvoika. The year of his discoveries has been variously claimed as 1893,[11] 1896[12] and 1887.[13] In any case Khvoika presented his findings at the 11th Congress of Archaeologists in 1897, which is considered the official date of the discovery of the Trypillian culture in Ukraine.[11][13] In the same year similar artifacts were excavated in the village of Trypillia (Ukrainian: Трипiлля, Russian: Трипольe) in Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine. As a result, this culture became identified in Soviet, Russian, and Ukrainian publications as the 'Tripolie' (or 'Tripolye'), 'Tripolian' or 'Trypillian' culture.

Anthropomorphic Cucuteni-Trypillian clay figure

Today the finds from both countries, as well as those from Moldova, are recognized as belonging to the same cultural complex. This is generally known as the Cucuteni culture in Romania and the Trypillian culture (variously romanized) in Ukraine. In English, 'Cucuteni-Tripolye culture' is most commonly used to refer to the whole culture,[14] with the Ukrainian-derived term 'Cucuteni-Tripillian culture' gaining currency following the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Dniester landscape in Ternopil Oblast, Western Ukraine.

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture flourished in the territory of what is now Moldova, northeastern Romania and parts of Western, Central and Southern Ukraine.

The culture thus extended northeast from the Danube River Basin around the Iron Gates gorge to the Black Sea and Dnieper River. It encompassed the central Carpathian Mountains as well as the plains, steppe and forest steppe on either side of the range. Its historical core lay around the middle to upper Dniester River (the Podolian Upland).[3] During the Atlantic and Subboreal climatic periods in which the culture flourished, Europe was at its warmest and moistest since the end of the last Ice Age, creating favorable conditions for agriculture in this region.

As of 2003, about 3,000 cultural sites have been identified,[6] ranging from small villages to "vast settlements consisting of hundreds of dwellings surrounded by multiple ditches".[15]



Traditionally separate schemes of periodization have been used for the Ukrainian Trypillian and Romanian Cucuteni variants of the culture. The Cucuteni scheme, proposed by the German archeologist Hubert Schmidt in 1932,[16] distinguished three cultures: Precucuteni, Cucuteni and Horodiştea-Folteşti; which were further divided into phases (Precucuteni I-III and Cucuteni A and B).[17] The Ukrainian scheme was first developed by Tatiana Sergeyevna Passek in 1949[18] and divided the Trypillia culture into three main phases (A, B and C) with further sub-phases (BI-II and CI-II).[17] Initially based on informal ceramic seriation, both schemes have been extended and revised since first proposed, incorporating new data and formalised mathematical techniques for artifact seriation.[19](p103)

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[17] represents this most current interpretation:

• Early (Precucuteni 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

Early period (4800-4000 BC)[edit]

Precucuteni Clay Figures 4900-4750 BC Discovered in Balta Popii, Romania

The roots of Cucuteni-Trypillian culture can be found in the Starčevo-Körös-Criș and Vinča cultures of the 6th to 5th millennia,[6] with additional influence from the Bug-Dniester culture (6500-5000 BC).[20] During the early period of its existence (in the 5th millennium BC), the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture was also influenced by the Linear Pottery culture from the north, and by the Boian-Giulesti culture from the south.[6] Through colonization and acculturation from these other cultures, the formative Precucuteni/Trypillia A culture was established. Over the course of the fifth millennium, the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture expanded from its 'homeland' in the Prut-Siret region along the eastern foothills of the Carpathian Mountains into the basins and plains of the Dnieper and Southern Bug rivers of central Ukraine.[21] Settlements also developed in the southeastern stretches of the Carpathian Mountains, with the materials known locally as the Ariuşd culture (see also: Prehistory of Transylvania). Most of the settlements were located close to rivers, with fewer settlements located on the plateaus. Most early dwellings took the form of pit houses, though they were accompanied by an ever-increasing incidence of above-ground clay houses.[21] The floors and hearths of these structures were made of clay, and the walls of clay-plastered wood or reeds. Roofing was made of thatched straw or reeds.

Some of the Cucuteni-Trypillian copper "Treasure" found at Cărbuna

The inhabitants were involved with animal husbandry, agriculture, fishing and gathering. Wheat, rye and peas were grown. Tools included plows made of antlers, stone, bone and sharpened sticks. The harvest was collected with scythes made of flint-inlaid blades. The grain was milled into flour by stone wheels. Women were involved in pottery, textile- and garment-making, and played a leading role in community life. Men hunted, herded the livestock, made tools from flint, bone and stone. Of their livestock, cattle were the most important, with swine, sheep and goats playing lesser roles. The question of whether or not the horse was domesticated during this time of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture is disputed among historians; horse remains have been found in some of their settlements, but it is unclear whether these remains were from wild horses or domesticated ones.

Clay statues of females and amulets have been found dating to this period. Copper items, primarily bracelets, rings and hooks, are occasionally found as well. A hoard of a large number of copper items (a Treasure - see image) was discovered in the village of Cărbuna, Moldova, consisting primarily of items of jewelry, which were dated back to the beginning of the 5th millennium BC. Some historians have used this evidence to support the theory that a social stratification was present in early Cucuteni culture, but this is disputed by others.[6]

Pottery remains from this early period are very rarely discovered; the remains that have been found indicate that the ceramics were used after being fired in a kiln. The outer color of the pottery is a smoky gray, with raised and sunken relief decorations. Toward the end of this early Cucuteni-Trypillian period, the pottery begins to be painted before firing. The white-painting technique found on some of the pottery from this period was imported from the earlier and contemporary (5th millennium) Gumelniţa-Karanovo culture. Historians point to this transition to kiln-fired, white-painted pottery as the turning point for when the Precucuteni culture ended and Cucuteni Phase (or Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture) began.[6]

Cucuteni and the neighbouring Gumelniţa-Karanovo cultures seem to be largely contemporary,

"Cucuteni A phase seems to be very long (4600-4050) and covers the entire evolution of Gumelniţa culture A1, A2, B2 phases (maybe 4650-4050)."[22]

Middle period (4000-3500 BC)[edit]

In the middle era the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture spread over a wide area from Eastern Transylvania in the west to the Dnieper River in the east. During this period, the population immigrated into and settled along the banks of the upper and middle regions of the Right Bank (or western side) of the Dnieper River, in present-day Ukraine. The population grew considerably during this time, resulting in settlements being established on plateaus, near major rivers and springs.

Archeological finds discovered in Moldova, circa 3650 BC

Their dwellings were built by placing vertical poles in the form of circles or ovals. The construction techniques incorporated log floors covered in clay, wattle-and-daub walls that were woven from pliable branches and covered in clay, and a clay oven, which was situated in the center of the dwelling. As the population in this area grew, more land was put under cultivation. Hunting supplemented the practice of animal husbandry of domestic livestock.

Tools made of flint, rock, clay, wood and bones continued to be used for cultivation and other chores. Much less common than other materials, copper axes and other tools have been discovered that were made from ore mined in Volyn, Ukraine, as well as some deposits along the Dnieper river. Pottery-making by this time had become sophisticated, however they still relied on techniques of making pottery by hand (the potter's wheel was not used yet). Characteristics of the Cucuteni-Trypillian pottery included a monochromic spiral design, painted with black paint on a yellow and red base. Large pear-shaped pottery for the storage of grain, dining plates, and other goods, was also prevalent. Additionally, ceramic statues of female "Goddess" figures, as well as figurines of animals and models of houses dating to this period have also been discovered.

Some scholars have used the abundance of these clay female fetish statues to base the theory that this culture was matriarchal in nature. Indeed, it was partially the archeological evidence from Cucuteni-Trypillian culture that inspired Marija Gimbutas, Joseph Campbell, and some latter 20th century feminists to set forth the popular theory of an Old European culture of peaceful, matriarchal, Goddess-centered Neolithic European societies that were wiped out by patriarchal, Sky Father-worshipping, warlike, Bronze-Age Proto-Indo-European tribes that swept out of The Steppes east of the Black Sea. This theory has been mostly discredited in recent years,[23] but there are still some people who adhere to it, at least to some degree.

Late period (3500-3000 BC)[edit]

During the late period the Cucuteni-Trypillian territory expanded to include the Volyn region in northwest Ukraine, the Sluch and Horyn Rivers in northern Ukraine, and along both banks of the Dnieper river near Kiev. Members of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture who lived along the coastal regions near the Black Sea came into contact with other cultures. Animal husbandry increased in importance, as hunting diminished; horses also became more important. The community transformed into a patriarchal structure. Outlying communities were established on the Don and Volga rivers in present-day Russia. Dwellings were constructed differently from previous periods, and a new rope-like design replaced the older spiral-patterned designs on the pottery. Different forms of ritual burial were developed where the deceased were interred in the ground with elaborate burial rituals. An increasingly larger number of Bronze Age artifacts originating from other lands were found as the end of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture drew near.[6]

Decline and end[edit]

There is a debate among scholars regarding how the end of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture took place.

According to some proponents of the Kurgan Hypothesis of the origin of Proto-Indo-European, for example the archaeologist Marija Gimbutas in her book "Notes on the chronology and expansion of the Pit-Grave Culture" (1961, later expanded by her and others), the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture came to a violent end in connection with the territorial expansion of the Kurgan Culture. Arguing from archaeological and linguistic evidence, Gimbutas concluded that the people of the Kurgan culture (a term grouping the Pit Grave culture and its predecessors) of the Pontic steppe, being most likely speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language, effectively destroyed the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture in a series of invasions undertaken during their expansion to the west. Based on this archaeological evidence Gimbutas saw distinct cultural differences between the patriarchal, warlike Kurgan culture and the more peaceful matriarchal Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, which she argued was a significant component of the "Old European cultures" which finally met extinction in a process visible in the progressing appearance of fortified settlements, hillforts, and the graves of warrior-chieftains, as well as in the religious transformation from the matriarchy to patriarchy, in a correlated east-west movement.[24] In this, "the process of Indo-Europeanization was a cultural, not a physical, transformation and must be understood as a military victory in terms of successfully imposing a new administrative system, language, and religion upon the indigenous groups.[25] Accordingly these proponents of the Kurgan Hypothesis hold that this violent clash took place during the Third Wave of Kurgan expansion between 3000-2800 BC, permanently ending the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture.

In 1989 Irish-American archaeologist J.P. Mallory in his book "In Search of the Indo-Europeans" summarizing the three existing theories concerning the end of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, mentions that archaeological findings in the region indicate Kurgan (i.e. Yamna culture) settlements in the eastern part of the Cucuteni-Trypillian area, co-existing for some time with those of the Cucuteni-Trypillian.[4] Artifacts from both cultures found within each of their respective archaeological settlement sites attest to an open trade in goods for a period,[4] though he points out that the archaeological evidence clearly points to what he termed "a dark age," its population seeking refuge in every direction except east. He cites evidence of the refugees having used caves, islands and hilltops (abandoning in the process 600-700 settlements) to argue for the possibility of a gradual transformation rather than a violent onslaught bringing about cultural extinction.[4] The obvious issue with that theory is the limited common historical life-time between the Cucuteni-Trypillian (4800-3000 BC) and the Yamna culture (3600-2300BC); given that the earliest archaeological findings of the Yamna culture (3600-3200 BC) are located in the Volga-Don basin, not in the Dniester and Dnieper area where the cultures came in touch, while the Yamna culture came to its full extension in the Pontic steppe at the earliest around 3000 BC, the time the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture ended[26] thus indicating an extremely short survival after coming in contact with the Yamna culture. Another contradicting indication is that the kurgans that replaced the traditional horizontal graves in the area now contain human remains of a fairly diversified skeletal type approximately ten centimeters taller on average than the previous population.[4]

In the 1990s and 2000s, another theory regarding the end of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture emerged based on 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 BC 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.[27] 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.[28] 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. According to that theory, 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 violently, but as a matter of survival, converting their economy from agriculture to pastoralism, and becoming integrated into the Yamna culture.[20][27][28][29] However, the Blytt–Sernander approach as a way to identify stages of technology in Europe with specific climate periods is an oversimplification not generally accepted. A conflict with that theoretical possibility is that during the warm Atlantic period, Denmark was occupied by Mesolithic cultures, rather than Neolithic, notwithstanding the climatic evidence. Moreover, the technology stages varied widely globally. To this must be added that the first period of the climate transformation ended some 500 years before the end of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture and the second approximately 1,400 years after.


Throughout the 2,750 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 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.[20]

Like other Neolithic societies, the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture had almost no division of labor. Although this culture's settlements sometimes grew to become the 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.[3] Since every household was almost entirely self-sufficient, there was very little need for trade. However, there were 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.[4]

Toward the end of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture's existence (from roughly 3000 BC to 2750 BC), 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.[3] 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 supplanted by the more complex trade network of the Proto-Indo-European culture that eventually replaced the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture.[3]


The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture was a society of subsistence farmers. Cultivating the soil (using an ard or scratch plough), harvesting crops and tending livestock was probably the main occupation for most people. Typically for a Neolithic culture, the vast majority of their diet consisted of cereal grains. They cultivated club wheat, oats, rye, proso millet, barley and hemp, which were probably ground and baked as unleavened bread in clay ovens or on heated stones in the home. They also grew peas and beans, apricot, cherry plum and wine grapes – though there is no solid evidence that they actually made wine.[30][31] There is also evidence that they may have kept bees.[32]

The zooarchaeology of Cucuteni-Trypillian sites indicate that the inhabitants practiced animal husbandry. Their domesticated livestock consisted primarily of cattle, but included smaller numbers of pigs, sheep and goats. There is evidence, based on some of the surviving artistic depictions of animals from Cucuteni-Trypillian sites, that the ox was employed as a draft animal.[30]

Both remains and artistic depictions of horses have been discovered at Cucuteni-Trypillian sites. However, whether these finds are of domesticated or wild horses is debated. Before they were domesticated, humans hunted wild horses for meat. On the other hand, one hypothesis of horse domestication places it in the steppe region adjacent to the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture at roughly the same time (4000–3500 BC), so it is possible the culture was familiar with the domestic horse. At this time horses could have been kept both for meat or as a work animal.[33] The direct evidence remains inconclusive.[34]

Hunting supplemented the Cucuteni-Trypillian diet. 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.[33] Remains of game species found at Cucuteni-Trypillian sites include red deer, roe deer, aurochs, wild boar, fox and brown bear.[citation needed]


The earliest known salt works in the world is at Poiana Slatinei, near the village of Lunca in Romania. It was first used in the early Neolithic, around 6050 BCE, by the Starčevo culture, and later by the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture in the Precucuteni period.[35] Evidence from this and other sites indicates that the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture extracted salt from 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.[36]

The provision of salt was a major logistical problem for the largest Cucuteni-Trypillian settlements. As they came to rely upon cereal foods over salty meat and fish, Neolithic cultures had to incorporate supplementary sources of salt into their diet. Similarly, domestic cattle need to be provided with extra sources of salt beyond their normal diet or their milk production is reduced. Cucuteni-Trypillian mega-sites, with a population of likely thousands of people and animals, are estimated to have required between 36,000 and 100,000 kg of salt per year. This was not available locally, and so had to be moved in bulk from distant sources on the western Black Sea coast and in the Carpathian Mountains, probably by river.[37]

Technology and material culture[edit]

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture is known by its distinctive settlements, architecture, intricately decorated pottery and anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines, which are preserved in archaeological remains. At its peak it was one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world at the time,[4] developing new techniques for ceramic production, housing building and agriculture, and producing woven textiles (although these have not survived and are known indirectly).


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 335[38] hectares) 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.[39]

Archaeologists have uncovered an astonishing[peacock term] 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.[20]

These settlements underwent periodical acts of destruction and re-creation, as they were burned and then rebuilt every 60–80 years. Some scholars[who?] 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.[40]

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.[39]

Interior reconstruction of a Cucuteni-Trypillian house in the Archaeology Museum Piatra Neamţ, Romania.
Reconstruction of a Bronze Age pit-house in the Tripillian Museum, Trypillia, Ukraine.
A scale reproduction of a Cucuteni-Trypillian village.
Model of Cucuteni house
Top view of cucuteni house model


Decorated Cucuteni-Trypillian pottery

Most Cucuteni-Trypillian pottery was hand coiled from local clay. Long coils of clay were placed in circles to form first the base and then the walls of the vessel. Once the desired shape and height of the finished product was built up the sides would then be smoothed to create a seamless surface. This technique was the earliest form of pottery shaping and the most common in the Neolithic; however, there is some evidence that they also used a primitive type of slow-turning potter's wheel, an innovation that did not become common in Europe until the Iron Age.[33]

Characteristically vessels were elaborately decorated with swirling patterns and intricate designs. Sometimes decorative incisions were added prior to firing, and sometimes these were filled with colored dye to produce a dimensional effect. In the early period, the colors used to decorate pottery were limited to a rusty-red and white. Later, potters added additional colors to their products and experimented with more advanced ceramic techniques.[6] The pigments used to decorate ceramics were based on iron oxide for red hues, calcium carbonate, iron magnetite and manganese Jacobsite ores for black, and calcium silicate for white. The black pigment, which was introduced during the later period of the culture, was a rare commodity: taken from a few sources and circulated (to a limited degree) throughout the region. The probable sources of these pigments were Iacobeni in Romania for the iron magnetite ore and Nikopol in Ukraine for the manganese Jacobsite ore.[41][42] No traces of the iron magnetite pigment mined in the easternmost limit of the Cucuteni-Trypillian region have been found to be used in ceramics from the western settlements, suggesting exchange throughout the entire cultural area was limited. In addition to mineral sources, pigments derived from organic materials (including bone and wood) were used to create various colors.[43]

In the late period of Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, kilns with a controlled atmosphere were used for pottery production. These kilns were constructed with two separate chambers—the combustion chamber and the filling chamber— separated by a grate. Temparatures in the combustion chamber could reach 1000–1100 °C but were usually maintained at around 900 °C to achieve a uniform and complete firing of vessels.[41]

Toward the end of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, as copper became more readily available, advances in ceramic technology leveled off as more emphasis was placed on developing metallurgical techniques.

Ceramic figurines[edit]

An anthropomorphic ceramic artifact was discovered during an archaeological dig in 1942 on Cetatuia Hill near Bodeşti, Neamţ County, Romania, which became known as the "Cucuteni Frumusica Dance" (after a nearby village of the same name). It was used as a support or stand, and upon its discovery was hailed as a symbolic masterpiece of Cucuteni-Trypillian culture. It is believed that the four stylized feminine silhouettes facing inward in an interlinked circle represented a hora, or ritualistic dance. Similar artifacts were later found in Bereşti and Drăgușeni.

Extant figurines excavated at the Cucuteni sites are thought to represent religious artefacts, but their meaning or use is still unknown. Some historians as Gimbutas claim that:

...the stiff nude to be representative of death on the basis that the color white is associated with the bone (that which shows after death). Stiff nudes can be found in Hamangia, Karanovo, and Cucuteni cultures[44]


Reconstructed Cucuteni-Trypillian loom

No examples of Cucuteni-Trypillian textiles have yet been found – preservation of prehistoric textiles is rare and the region does not have a suitable climate. However, impressions of textiles are found on pottery sherds (because the clay was placed there before it was fired). These show that woven fabrics were common in Cucuteni-Trypillian society.[45][46] Finds of ceramic weights with drilled holes suggest that these were manufactured with a warp weighted loom.[47] It has also been suggested that these weights, especially "disposable" examples made from poor quality clay and inadequately fired, were used to weigh down fishing nets. These would probably have been frequently lost, explaining their inferior quality.[48]

Other pottery sherds with textile impressions, found at Frumusica[disambiguation needed] and Cucuteni, suggest that textiles were also knitted (specifically using a technique known as nalbinding).[49]

Weapons and tools[edit]

A sample of Miorcani flint. One of the most used lithic raw materials at Cucuteni-Trypillian settlements. (ca. 7.5 cm wide)
Stone industry of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture

Cucuteni-Trypillian tools were made from knapped and polished stone, organic materials (bone, antler and horn), and in the later period, copper. Local Miorcani flint was the most common material for stone tools, but a number of other types are known to have been used, including chert, jasper and obsidian. Presumably these tools were hafted with wood, but this is not preserved. Weapons are rare but not unknown, implying the culture was relatively peaceful.[50]

The following types of tools have been discovered at Cucuteni-Trypillian sites:[citation needed]

Tool Typical materials
Woodworking Adzes Stone
Awls Stone, antler, horn, copper
Gouges/chisels Stone, bone
Lithic reduction Pressure flaking tools, e.g. abrasive pieces,
plungers, pressing and retouching tools
Soft hammers Antler, horn
Polishing tools Bone
Textiles Knitting needles Bone
Sewing needles Bone, copper
Spindles and spindle whorls Clay
Loom weights
Farming Hoes Antler, horn
Ground stones/metates and grinding slabs Stone
Scythes Flint pieces inlaid into antler or wood blades
Fishing Harpoons Bone
Fish hooks Bone, copper
Other/multipurpose Axes, including double-headed axes,
hammer axes and possible battle axes
Stone, copper
Clubs Stone
Knives and daggers Stone, bone, copper
Arrow tips Bone

Ritual and religion[edit]

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.[19] 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.[19] There have been so many of these figurines discovered in Cucuteni-Trypillian sites[19] 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,[19] 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 BC, and who worshiped a warlike Sky God.[51] However, Gimbutas' theories have been partially discredited by more recent discoveries and analyses.[4] 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.[52]

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 Trypillia and the western Cucuteni regions of the Cucuteni-Trypillian geographical area, American archaeologist Douglass W. Bailey writes:

There are no Cucuteni cemeteries and the Trypillia ones that have been discovered are very late.[19](p115)

The discovery of skulls is more frequent than 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.[53] 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.[19](p116)

Vinča-Turdaş script[edit]

The mainstream academic view holds that writing first appeared during the Sumerian civilization in southern Mesopotamia, around 3300–3200 BC. 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 millennium BC.[54]

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 and 4000 BC. The first discovery of this script occurred at the archaeological site in the village of Turdaş (Romania), and consisted of a collection of artifacts that had what appeared to be an unknown system of writing. In 1908, more of these same kinds of artifacts were discovered at a site near Vinča, outside the city of Belgrade, Serbia. Scholars subsequently labeled this the "Vinča script" or "Vinča-Turdaş 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.[54]

Beginning in 1875 up to the present, archaeologists have found more 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 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-Turdaş 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.[54] 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.[54]


Further information: Archaeogenetics of Europe

A 2010 study analyzed mtDNA recovered from Cucuteni-Trypillian human osteological remains found in the Verteba Cave (on the bank of the Siret river, Ternopil Oblast, Ukraine). It revealed that seven of the individuals whose remains where analysed belonged to the pre-HV branch of the R haplogroup, two to haplogroup HV, two to haplogroup H, one to haplogroup J, and one to T4 haplogroup, the latter also being the oldest sample of the set.

The authors conclude that the population living around Verteba Cave was fairly heterogenous, but that the wide chronological age of the specimens might indicate that the heterogeneity might have been due to natural population flow during this timeframe. The authors also link the pre-HV and HV/V haplogroups with European Paleolithic populations, and consider the T and J haplogroups as hallmarks of Neolithic demic intrusions from the South-East (the North-Pontic region) rather than from the West (i.e. the Linear Pottery culture).[55]


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