Neolithization of the western Ukraine

Neolithization of the western Ukraine – Overview

Pavlo Shydlovskyi

The study of the Eastern European Neolithic is impossible without the involvement of data on the territory of Ukraine, since Ukraine occupies a large part of the European continent. Due to a number of famous scientists of the twentieth century it became possible to discover and study Ukrainian Neolithic sites. M.O. Makarenko, M.Ya. Rudynskyi, V.M. Danylenko and D.Ya. Telegin should be mentioned among many others who laid the groundwork for the modern periodization scheme of the development of culture in the early Holocene and gave a volumetric analysis of the outstanding complexes of the Neolithic period in Eastern Europe.

But a major flaw of the Soviet archaeological science were isolation from European research, often – ignorance of the material from surrounding territories which caused biased approach to the origin and development of concrete archaeological communities. It was argued that all Neolithic communities in the southern and central parts of Ukraine had local roots and practiced reproductive forms of economy. Stadial approach has led to some absolutisation of such terms as Neolithic and Chalcolithic that corresponds to the last stage of savagery and the first stage of barbarism by the scheme of Morgan – Engels, without considering environmental, migration specifics of the formation of cultures. For evidence of gradual, evolutionary development of culture in a particular area often used morphological similarity of artifacts, which is indicates the transformation of a shape for a long time. Thus, the idea of the continuity of such early Holocene phenomena was developed, for example: “Osokorivka culture” (Final Palaeolithic) – Hrebenyky culture (Mesoliyhic) – Bug-Dniester culture (Neolithic) – Tripolie A – Tripolie B (Chalkolithic).

At the present state of science, the development of Neo-Eneolithic cultures of southwestern Ukraine and Moldova is somewhat different. The complexity of this process is evidenced by the various concepts and ideas offered by the researchers. The development of technological approaches in the analysis of material cultural remains, along with the experimental and traceology methods for the interpretation of artifacts and their functions was a significant contribution to the understanding of neolithization process in Eastern Europe. The comprehensive application of absolute and relative dating methods became a great impulse to create cultural and chronological schemes of the development of the Neolithic within the territory of Ukraine. Radiocarbon dating is still the most important method among others, both for archaeology and for the application of related disciplines such as paleobotany and archeozoology. Application of the geomagnetic survey methods allowed to understand the patterns of settlement strictures belonged to ancient farmers. The possibility of access to information from neighbouring regions also has great value.

In recent years, a number of sites which belong to different agricultural communities of Neo-Chalcolithic time have been investigated in the south-western part of Ukraine and in Moldova. They all are located in the basins of the Prut, Dniester, Southern Bug and Dnieper rivers and demonstrate different variants of economic and cultural development in a particular region. Neolithic settlements include Sakarovka I in Moldova, Yosypivka I (the Upper Dniester), Dobrianka I-III, Pugach and Gard (Southern Bug), Romankiv, Pohreby (the Middle Dnieper), etc. Important conclusions were drawn from the studies of Trypillya settlements of Taliyanky, Maidanets’ke, Bernashivka I, Ozheve-Ostriv, etc. The peculiarity of studying these sites is the high methodological level of research, resulting in obtaining considerable series of various categories of material culture, including pottery, lithic, bone and antler products. It makes possible to conduct a comparative analysis of the assemblages from the mentioned and other sites and to trace similar and distinctive features in the processing technology for pottery and lithics. Studying Neolithic sites using up-to-date techniques has largely shed light on the features of each specific cultural phenomenon and raised questions about the polivariant development of the Early Holocene communities, and about the necessity of taking into account environmental, economic, social, migration and ideological factors in the development of cultural complexes. Most of the modern research of Neo-Chalcolithic sites is the result of international cooperation between Ukrainian and European scientists.

However, despite advances in methods of excavation and significant expansion of sources for research, understanding the processes of prehistoric cultures development mostly remains within the unilinear evolutionary approach, where one phenomenon has to “logically” grow in from another with the absence of abrupt change in between. But detailed analysis of the elements of material culture suggests no single-line development of each archaeological community.

The process of interaction between nature and society has multithousand history and characterized by multiplicity of adaptation strategies of human communities to the changing landscape and climatic conditions. However, the general vector of human culture development is gradually overcoming the natural and geographical determination, which is manifested in mastering of different natural niches and in broad inclusion of the external resources to the sphere of its own activity, gradually enhancing of anthropogenic interference in the ecological systems.

One of the most important issues in the study of ecological systems is to determine the nature of the changes that occurred during the transition from the Late Pleistocene to the Holocene. Prolonged existence of hunters in periglacial area in a relatively soft period of Late Pleistocene 18-13 thousands B.P. caused a high adaptation level of Upper Palaeolithic population to natural conditions. At this time there is flourishing of a culture of prehistoric societies, which was manifested in the spread of certain economic systems based on the availability of faunal resources and specific forms of architecture and original art. But significant landscape changes that occurred on the border of the Pleistocene – Holocene forced people to find a new ways of managing and acquire new resources, which reflected on the nature of material culture.

The process of neolithization that in some regions of the Oecumene took the character of a “Neolithic revolution” was one of the global processes that influenced the development of all mankind. The Neolithic era should be considered as a significant increase in the capacity to conduct various forms of societies’ life-sustaining activity as a result of the liberation from natural determinism in behavior after the fundamental changes in the natural environment at the end of the Pleistocene. If the formation of human society and culture took place in the conditions of the last Würm glaciation which stipulated strict dependence on the ways of husbandry of the environment, then a signifiant climate mitigation in the northern hemisphere, almost immediately led to development fanning out in all sectors of life. A vital point in the transformation of human culture, resulting in the formation of modern industrial relations and the active involvement of humanity in the transformational processes of the geosphere and biosphere of the planet is the transition to reproductive forms of economy. The “triggers” to the explosive changes in human life, however, were catastrophic events in the environment at the end of the last glacial period.

With the disappearance of the mammoth faunal complex the transformations in the material culture of hunting groups occurring. Within the late epigravettian groups spreading a new methods of hunting, which finds its expression in the emergence of “early geometric microliths”; and a small number of sites with such traits in Eastern Europe suggests the demographic crisis among the population during the transition time. The upper limit of mammoth-hunters culture falls on the 13-12 KBP (Semenivka III, Dobranychivka, Yudinivo) and is associated primarily with the disappearance of the main object of hunting. The sharp decrease of the sites on the territory of Dnieper Region in the Final Paleolithic is recorded with the presence of only several sites dated in frames 12–11 thousands B.P.

On the other hand, in Early Preboreal in Eastern Europe undergoing complicated migration processes. Northern territories became an area of settling the cultures, associated with Final Palaeolithic – Mesolithic communities of Northern Europe – Swiderian, Kudlayivka, later – Yanislavytsia cultures. Active settling of Dnieper area occurred during Mesolithic-Neolithic period. For Mesolithic time it should be noted the combining of the elements of material culture of Northern Europe origin (Kudlayivka, Pisochnyi Riv type) and forest-steppe origin (Tatsenky, Zymivnyky), which resulted in features of lithic industry of Mesolithic assemblages.

The Neolithic is an important archaeological period, belonging to the final stages of the Stone Age. It is a transitional epoch from the early and middle Stone Age with exclusively appropriating forms of obtaining means of subsistence compared to the era of early metals – the epoch of widespread of the reproductive forms of farming, the appearence of a craft, the formation of structurally complex societies, and in the most ancient centers of origin of agriculture and cattle breeding – the appearance of the first civilisations. The process of Neolithization is understood as the spreading of innovations in the economic, technological and cultural spheres, among which the domestication of plants and animals play a prominent role. This process is also characterized by early forms of farming and cattle breeding, the hereto linked transition to relative sedentism of prehistoric collectives, the emergence of stationary housing construction, various stone and flint processing techniques, and the spread of pottery. A specificity of life activity was reflected in complex world-view ideas and perceptions, which were materialized in vivid art objects and ornamentations.

At Preboreal-Boreal time southern regions of Eastern Europe experiencing a strong influence from the Near East, Balkanian and Central Asia centers of Neolithic cultures. If in the Near East and the Balkans abrupt changes in the natural conditions quickly caused a reorientation to reproductive economy and related with it technology inventions, then on the vast plain territories of Eastern Europe, the process of neolithization had a wave character of diffusion of innovations in a particular sequence.

The first wave is associated with proto-Neolithic groups with progressive pressure lithic processing technology, which allows obtaining a series of standardized blades that served as a preforms for other tools and hunting weaponry. In the hunter-gatherer societies in Eastern Europe, this technology is actively used to provide primarily the hunting sector – the production of standardized microliths that served as elements of hunting weapons. This culture complex includes Hrebenyky, Kukrek and Donetsk archaeological unities, and technological equivalents of which known in sites of the Near and Middle East. If the Hrebenyky community (8000-7200 B.P.) has direct analogies with the Balkan pre-ceramic complexes of the Initial Neolithic (Argissa, Ahilleon, Sesklo, Franhti), then the origins of the Kukrek (9700-8000 BP) culture in recent years are found in the pre-karmic complexes of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

The second wave of neolithization associated with the penetration from the Balkans in Eastern Europe the first skills of farming and domestication of animals, along with the tradition of ceramic production. The earliest assemblages in Eastern Europe that represent the culture of ancient farmers are Krish culture of Moldova. The skills of agriculture correspond with the emergence of distinct series of tools related to the harvesting operations. Among such – a series of attachments to sickles on the pressure regular blades, along with the horn sickles and the stone and horny elements of the hoes. Within the territories of the Dniester and Bug region the synthesis of Neolithic Balkan traditions with local Hrebenyky-Kukrek complex occurred, which resulted in the emergence of Bug-Dniester culture (7400-6000 BP). In recent years, the thesis of agricultural skills in the bearers of this culture is questionable. Given the topography of the sites, the absence of lithic inventory connected with agriculture and the analysis of plant remains from the BDK sites, it is possible to come to a conclusion about hunting-fishing orientation of representatives of this community.

The next wave associated with the penetration from the northern Carpathian Mountains to Ukraine representatives of the Linear Pottery Culture (6600-5800 BP), which has fully characterized the agricultural oriented farming, which found expression in the stationary architecture, flat-bottom thin-walled pottery and in a specific lithic assemblage. The lithic processing technology characterized by obtaining a wide blades with using forced pressure, as the most suitable preforms for making sickle insets and knives. The appearance of the earliest Trypillia culture sites (5900-5600 BP) completes the formation process of a Neolithic farming complex on the southwest of Eastern Europe.

These cultural unities are associated with a complete reorientation of the population on extensive agriculture that results in the spread of permanent settlements with clay architecture. In terms of lithic technology, a complete shift to agriculture in the economy is reflected in trying to get the regular blades as blanks for the sickle insets – dissemination of the technology of forced pressure with using simple mechanisms – levers. With the advent of agricultural communities in Eastern Europe there are evidences of complex social relations and formation of network connections within cultural groups appears. Among such evidences is the transportation of high-quality raw materials at relatively long distances to ensure the flint processing industry, which shows wide exchange links.

The literature has repeatedly expressed the idea of the genetic affinity of LBK, Tripolie A and Tripolie B, and therefore the similarity of their flint inventory. But detailed analysis of the elements of material culture suggests no single-line development of each archaeological community. Every culture develops its own technological tradition that is more pronounced in lithic inventory than in ceramic complexes. If ceramic systems are often quite colorful phenomenon, lithic assemblages demonstrates a high degree of unification, making it important for the cultural identification of the sites. The peculiarity of every cultural phenomenon seen in technology, which characterized by a focus on a particular type of blank and design of tools primarily associated with the procuring of food resources – arrowheads and attachments for sickles. Comparative analysis of assemblages proves that there are no intermediate transition traditions between the technological vectors of LBK, TrypillyaA and Trypillya B1. We can indicate two main technology types – microlithic and macrolithic which are associated with two directions of Neolithic economy – a complex economy with large part of appropriating forms (the Bug-Dniester culture, TrypillyaA) and economy definitely focused on agriculture (LBK, TrypillyaB).

If Mesolithic sites of Middle Dnieper region represented by a several localities with a poor inventory consisted only of lithic artifacts, fully populating of the landscapes of Middle Dnieper took place only in the Neolithic epoch. Here we can see “an explosion” in spreading of the sites of Kyiv-Cherkasska unity with different stages of development. Neolithic localities of Middle Dnieper have the “bush” disposition – by the concentrations of several sites on dune heights in the vast river valley. One of these concentrations – opposite the mouth of Pripet’ river, in the territory between Dnieper and Desna rivers: Pustynka 5 (Mnievo Lis), Novosilky on Dnieper, Oshytky, etc. Next concentration connected with the mouth part of Desna River: Zazymie-Stanky I-III, Zazymie-Osynky, Pohreby-Keliiky, Pohreby-Musieva Dolyna, Pohreby-Lan, Vyhurivschyna, Troieschyna, Mykilska Slobidka I-IV etc. Another concentration situated to the South from previous one on the right bank of Dnieper – Khodosivka-Zaplava, Romankiv, Vita-Poshtova. Fouth concentration one can see to the south by the Dnieper flow – Protsiv, Vyshenky 1-14 etc.

The neolithization of Middle Dnieper region took place through the territory of Southern Polissia, the evidence of which we can see in early complexes Lazarivka, Khodosivka-Zaplava, Roslavske and Krushnyky with Kukrek lithic industry and Bug-Dniester ceramic. Kukrek tradition in Middle Dnieper region we can connect with the earliest complexes of Kyiv-Cherkassy tradition which dates by 14 C in measures 6900 – 6300 B.P.

The second group of ceramic is analogous to the materials from Romankiv I – “ceramic of Romankiv type”. The dating of this site by 14 C is 6130±150 B.P. This type of ceramic we can see at Zazymie-Stanky I-III, Pohreby-Keliiky, Pohreby-Musieva Dolyna, Pohreby-Lan, Vyshenky.

The highest cultural development marked by the concentration of later sites of Kyiv-Cherkassy community in Middle Dnieper area, which is particularly associated with dune arrays and the first terrace above the floodplain of the Dnieper, Desna, Trubizh, Supii, Ros rivers. The contacts of Kyiv-Cherkassy communities with a population of Chernihiv Polissia are marked by the presence of Pit-comb Ware culture in the region. On the last stages of development of Kiev-Cherkassy culture one can see the considerable influence of Late Trypillia population, which displayed by the syncretism in morphology and ornamentation of ceramic features. Difficulty ethnic processes taking place in the Meso-Neolithic era in the Dnieper basin, demonstrated by anthropological materials which originating from the cemeteries of Volosko-Vasylivka and Mariupol types.

Natural resources of Middle Dnieper area began to be used much wider with the arrival of Trypillian population. Cucuteni-Trypillian community began to populate the Left Bank of the Dnieper about 3600-3500 cal. BC, near the modern Pereiaslav-Khmelnytskyi. Gradually they settled up the valley of Trubizh River, forming sites of Lukashivska group: Tsybli-Uzviz, Krutukha-Zholob, Lukashi and Svitylnia, and reached the Desna basin. In terms of topography, this population possessed high loess terraces along the right bank of the Dnieper and upland terraces on the left bank of the Desna. With the spreading of Trypillia culture connected the transition to a new phase in the archaeological periodisation – Chalcolithic era, which characteristic features are: domination of hoe-type agriculture, the emergence of copper artifacts with the domination of stone tools, clay architecture, distribution of female figurines and painted ceramics.

A livelihood of prehistoric societies was largely determined by the natural factors, due to the low level of productive forces. But through the process of the historical development, society gradually expanded a resource base, involving more and more natural resources and mastering different landscape levels to ensure and improve living conditions. It gave a possibility to practice different forms of economy within a certain region that directly affected on the location of an Eastern European sites of the Stone Age.


Pavlo Shydlovskyi