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6,000-Year-Old Temple Unearthed in Ukraine

A team of archaeologists led by Dr Mykhailo Videiko of the Kyiv Institute of Archaeology has discovered the remains of a 6,000-year-old temple at a Trypillian culture village near modern-day Nebelivka, Ukraine.

A 6,000-year-old temple found at the Trypillian mega-site of Nebelivka in Kirovograd region, Ukraine. Image credit: Nataliia Burdo / Mykhailo Videiko.

Trypillian culture derives its name from the village of Trypillia in Kyiv region, Ukraine, where artifacts of this ancient civilization were first discovered in 1896.

Archeological excavations show that Trypillian people lived from about 5400 to 2700 BC on a vast area extending from the Carpathian piedmont, east to the Dnipro River, and south to the shores of the Black sea.

The culture is characterized by advanced agriculture, developed metallurgy, pottery-making, sophisticated architecture and social organization, including the first proto-cities on European soil.


Large pot and small bowls found inside the southern room of the temple. Image credit: Nataliia Burdo / Mykhailo Videiko.

Trypillian society was matriarchal, with women heading the household, doing agricultural work, and manufacturing pottery, textiles and clothing. Hunting, keeping domestic animals and making tools were the responsibilities of the men.

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

Some of the settlements were reconstructed several times on top of earlier habitational levels, preserving the shape and the orientation of the older buildings.

The purpose of burning these settlements is a subject of debate among scientists.


Fragments of humanlike figurines found inside the temple. Image credit: Nataliia Burdo / Mykhailo Videiko.

The remains of one of the largest burnt out Trypillian buildings ever found have been uncovered during recent excavations at the Trypillian ‘mega-site’ of Nebelivka in Kirovograd region, Ukraine, and interpreted as a massive temple, dating from 4000 BC.

“The temple was a two-story building made of wood and clay surrounded by a galleried courtyard, five rooms were on the first floor and raised family altars made of clay were on the ground floor,” said Dr Videiko, who is a co-author of the paper published in the Journal of Neolithic Archaeology.

“We have all motives and enough evidences to determine it as a central temple of the whole village community.”


Clay tokens, golden and bone pendants found inside the temple. Image credit: Nataliia Burdo / Mykhailo Videiko.

“Its construction required labor commensurate with the construction of several dozen ordinary houses. Its plan and some features of this structure find analogies in temples from the 5th – 4th millennia BC known from excavations in Anatolia and Mesopotamia.”

The temple was approximately 60 meters long and 21 meters wide, and was oriented nearly east-west.

Inside the temple, Dr Videiko and his colleagues found the remains of eight clay platforms, which may have been used as altars, and two bins with stones inside.

Reconstruction of the temple and plans of the ground floor (middle) and the first floor (bottom): 1-7, 11 – clay platforms; 8-9 – clay bins; 10 – clay floor; 12 – podium; 13-16 – storage vessels; 17-21 – thresholds; 22 – clay arch; 23 – painted clay floor; 24 – clay platform walls. Image credit: Nataliia Burdo / Mykhailo Videiko.

“Cross-like altars with painted surface and incised decoration are well known from excavations at Volodymyrivka, Maydanetske and other Trypillian sites in the region, also from the pottery models of dwellings,” the archaeologists said.

“During explorations, we discovered some of the details of the interior – thresholds, clay platforms, bins, podium, storage vessels, decoration of floor and walls.”

“The main constructive material was clay with different kinds of admixtures. Clay platforms and podium were created using clay mixed with loamy soil.”


Clay model of a Trypillia dwelling (Trypillia BII, around 4000-3900 BC). Image credit: Nataliia Burdo / Mykhailo Videiko.

“It is visible that platforms, thresholds, floors and clay bins were repaired during the period when the structure existed.”

“We have no direct evidence about the construction of the roof. It is possible to suppose that it looked as on pottery models of houses from the sites of Nebelivka group: arched, probably from rush mates, with conventionalized bull horns over pediment.”

Clay tokens, fragments of humanlike figurines, pottery, golden and bone pendants were also found at the temple.

The results of the 2012-13 campaigns at the site of Nebelivka were published online in the journal Antiquity and the journal Tyragetia (in Russian).

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