“Did you know that there is a book by Jules Verne called The Mysterious Island, in which people meet on an island and begin to build a civilization?” asks Mykhailo Videiko, an archaeologist at the Borys Grinchenko Kyiv University in Ukraine.
“But this isn’t a fiction story,” he pauses.
“This is a real story.”
Silenced twice, once by time, and then by politics, the ancient Cucuteni-Trypillia civilization is once again finding voices to share its story.
The story of Trypillia, as it is commonly known, began 7,000 years ago in what is now Eastern Europe.
Most settlements were discovered in Moldova, Romania and Ukraine, all former Soviet republics.
The excavated settlements offer modern archaeologists one of the first known examples of urbanization and suggest the existence of a population of more than one million inhabitants.
The people of Trypillia “were able to implement almost every technological innovation of their time,” says Videiko.
They were obsessed with pottery, and built the most advanced kilns of the time. Construction techniques made it possible to build houses of up to 700 m².
“A settlement can compare to medieval London in size,” says Videiko.
“Many researchers couldn’t believe that such a settlement actually existed. They found 1,500 buildings there. One house was 700 m². That’s a lot for a 5,500-year-old European building.”
And the objects found there indicate a culture that worshiped female goddesses.
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One of the unsolved mysteries about Trypillia was the periodic destruction of settlements. Before leaving the place, they burned the houses.
“The abandonment and burning of Trypillia’s houses was accompanied by the destruction of the ovens. The remains of the ovens were removed to the outside of the house. This could mean that they ‘killed’ the house, took the heart out of the house and set it on fire at all,” says Vladyslav Chabaniuk, director of the Trypillia reserve.
Trypillia research was initially embraced by the Soviet Union. Communist authorities drew parallels between the impressive ancient civilization and the Marxist ideology, which promoted a classless, propertyless society.
For this reason, they allocated large funds to finance projects for the archaeological study of civilization.
“Trypillia was a wonderful illustration of a pre-class, classless society or primitive communism,” explains Videiko.
But when hints surfaced that Trypillia may not have been the utopia of the classless society it first appeared to be, things changed quickly.
“As archeologists explored further, they started to discover mega-archaeological sites from the Trypillia civilization. They started to find all these huge buildings. And the question arises: could all this be done by a classless society?” says Videiko.
“Technically, all scientific discoveries were destroying Marxist-Leninist theory.”
In the years that followed, researchers who challenged official propaganda were considered enemies of the state.
Some excavators at the Trypillia archaeological site were convicted as members of a terrorist espionage organization.
“Sentence. 1937. Firing squad.”
Books promoting the study of Trypillia were published abroad, but, according to Videiko, “never made it to Ukraine.”
“They were researching something, but almost no one here knew about it. Those who did, remained silent.”
Today, Trypillia’s legacy is being revived through fashion.
Ukrainian fashion designer Svitlana Bevza was inspired by the art of ancient civilization centered on the female figure—”in the symbolism of woman as goddess, as a symbol of fertile land, as a symbol of birth.”
She uses her Trypillia-influenced clothing and jewelry line as a way to celebrate the culture, reverence for women and connection to the nature of that people.
According to her, it is unfair that “this great culture is not so well known in the world – like the Egyptian one, for example”.
“There was no voice that could speak to the world about this culture,” he adds.
An advanced civilization built from nothing is not just the subject of a fictional novel, it is also the true story of Cucuteni-Trypillia, being told once again.
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