Mysterious Cucuteni-Tyrpillian Culture Burned Their Settlements For Unknown Reasons

Ellen Lloyd - - The mysterious Cucuteni-Trypillian culture lived in Eastern Europe thousands of years ago. They left behind a number of intriguing ancient artifacts, destroyed settlements, and sacred sanctuaries. It remains unclear why and how they vanished. It is also a mystery why they regularly burned their settlements.

These people lived in an area of around 35,000 square kilometers, incorporating parts of present-day Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine, between 5400 and 2700 BCE.

The discovery of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture

The culture was initially named after the village of Cucuteni in Romania.

cucuteni trypillian culture

 In 1884, Teodor T. Burada, after having seen ceramic fragments in the gravel used to maintain the road from Târgu Frumos to Iași, investigated the quarry in Cucuteni from where the material was mined, where he found fragments of pottery and terracotta figurines.

At the same time, in 1893, the first Ukrainian sites ascribed to the culture were discovered by Vicenty Khvoika, who found ancient ruins near the village of Trypillia in the Obukhiv District of central Ukraine's Kiev Oblast.

Prior to the discovery of Trypillia in the late 19th century – a time when great archeological discoveries were taking place in various parts of the world – it seemed that Eastern Europe had made no notable prehistoric contributions to the development of so-called civilization in the region. But all this changed in 1893 as archeologists started to explore the ruins of these ancient settlements and discovered that the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture had established cities to accommodate up to 15,000 inhabitants, being some of the largest settlements in Neolithic European history (7000 BCE-1700BCE)

The Cucuteni-Trypillian Deliberately Burned Their Settlements Regularly

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.

Old cucuteni trypillian cultureRecreation of a Cucuteni-Trypillian house burning. Credit: Arheoinvest - Public Domain

Archaeologists noticed something strange while investigating the ruins left behind by the Cucuteni-Tyrpillian culture. These ancient people deliberately burned their settlements after some years.

The purpose of the periodic destruction of settlements, with each single-habitation site having a roughly 60 to 80-year lifetime, remains debated among scholars. Some of the settlements were reconstructed several times on top of earlier habitational levels, preserving the older buildings' shape and orientation. One particular location, the Poduri site (Romania), revealed thirteen habitation levels that were constructed on top of each other over many years.

Archaeological Treasures And Sacred Sanctuaries Of The Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture

Archeological treasures recovered from these sites include statuettes of both men and women, weapons and other items made of copper and other metals, intricately patterned earthenware, and clay building materials. The female statuettes have featureless faces, while the males have oval, elongated faces with prominent noses and deep-set eyes. Some of the statuettes are naked while others are clothed, with the styles of clothing changing over the years, and the females wore their hair in different styles.

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

Pre-Cucuteni Clay Figures 4900-4750 BC discovered in Balta Popii, Romania via wikipedia

During excavations, archaeologists found several sacred sanctuaries. Artifacts inside these sanctuaries were intentionally buried in the ground within the structure. These objects 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.

Old cucuteni trypillian culture - pottery clothing

Many of these artifacts are clay figurines or statues. It is commonly assumed that many of these artifacts are fetishes or totems, which are believed to be imbued with powers that can help and protect the people who look after them.

The End Of The Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture Remains An Open Question

Why the Cucteni-Trypullian culture vanished remains unknown. Scholars have debated the end of the culture, and there are several theories.


According to archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture ended violently in connection with the territorial expansion of the Kurgan culture. Proponents of the Kurgan Hypothesis hold that a violent clash took place during the Third Wave of Kurgan expansion between 3000-2800 B.C.permanently ending the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture.

J.P. Mallory, an Irish-American archaeologist, is not convinced the Cucteni-Trypullian culture met a violent end. Instead, he points out that archaeological evidence indicates what he termed "a dark age," during which the population sought refuge in every direction except the 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.

Mysterious Cucuteni-Tyrpillian Culture Burned Their Settlements For Unknown Reasons

Reconstruction of the Trypillian city Maydanets c 4000 B.C. The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture built large settlements. Credit: Wikipedia - CC BY-SA 4.0

Another theory regarding the end of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture emerged based on a climatic change at the end of their culture's existence known as the Blytt-Sernander Sub-Boreal phase. Beginning around 3200 B.C, 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. Since the Cucuteni-Trypillian people consisted mostly of farmers, the culture would have collapsed under these climatic conditions.

Written by Ellen Lloyd –

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Ciuk K. Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine The Remarkable Trypillian Culture