Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: the Remarkable Trypilian Culture 5400-2700 BC

Presented by: Northland Power

ROM organized exhibition debuts Saturday, November 29, 2008

This Fall, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) presents Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: the Remarkable Trypilian Culture (5400 – 2700 BC), the world’s first large scale exhibition uncovering the secrets of this ancient society which existed in present day Ukraine 7,000 – 5,000 years ago. The mystery of this compelling and sophisticated culture, known for creating the largest settlements anywhere in the world at the time, only to inexplicably disappear, is illuminated through some 300 artifacts, many never before seen in North America. The exhibition is on display in the Museum’s 3rd floor Centre Block from Saturday, November 29, 2008 to Sunday, March 22, 2009.

With Ukraine’s First Lady, Mrs. Kateryna Yushchenko serving as honorary patron, Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: the Remarkable Trypilian Culture (5400 – 2700 BC) is organized by the ROM in collaboration with the National Museum of the History of Ukraine (Kyiv, Ukraine), the Institute of Archaeology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, the Archaeological Museum of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, the Odessa Archaeological Museum, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and the Vinnytsia Regional Museum (Ukraine). The exhibition is based on artifacts first discovered by Ukrainian archaeologist Vikenty Khvoika in 1896, including tools, items of adornment, ceramic figures, earthenware portraits, and pottery. Trypilian pottery, with its sophisticated decorative schemes, attractive forms and fine execution, is generally recognized as second to none in the Neolithic world.

“One of the most important international exhibitions ever mounted on the Trypilian culture, Ancient Ukraine will be of great interest to all visitors, especially those fascinated by ancient societies," said William Thorsell, Director and CEO of the ROM. "We are delighted to work closely with First Lady, Mrs. Yushchenko, these European institutions, as well as Canada’s Ukrainian-Canadian community, to present the achievements of this highly-sophisticated Neolithic culture. We are also proud to welcome Northland Power as the exhibition’s presenting sponsor."

“As the first major museum exhibition to reveal the ancient culture of the Trypilians to North American audiences, Ancient Ukraine is breaking new ground,” said James Temerty, Chairman, Northland Power. “Northland Power is proud to partner with the Royal Ontario Museum in creating this landmark exhibition, and applauds the ROM, the Ukrainian-Canadian community, and the many partners who have come together to make this exciting project possible.”


In 1896, during the great age of archaeological discoveries that unearthed Troy, Mycenae, Knossos and the many civilizations of Mesopotamia, archaeologist Vikenty Khvoika, a pioneer of Ukrainian archaeology, unearthed the remains of a prehistoric people near the village of Trypillia, and which means “three fields” in Ukrainian. This society is thought to have flourished in the forest-steppe region of present-day Ukraine, an area approximately 50,000 square kilometres from the upper Dniester River on the west to the mid-Dnipro River on the east. In addition to intriguing religious and cosmological beliefs, the Trypilians achieved a great degree of sophistication – not only were they expert farmers, herders and craftsmen, they excelled in pottery making, evident in the technical and artistic excellence of each piece on display. Equally compelling, the Trypilian culture may
best be known for building two-storey houses and its giant settlements, burned to the ground every 60 to 80 years by the Trypilians themselves, prior to moving to a new location. Approximately 2,000 Trypilian sites have been found.

“In the century since their discovery, archaeologists have learned that the Trypilians were even more extraordinary than Khvoika imagined," explains exhibition curator, Dr. Krzysztof Ciuk of the ROM’s World Cultures Department. "It is uncertain why this culture disappeared. Trypilians may have been replaced by Indo-European peoples who expanded both east and west at this period or, perhaps, as the climate became drier and the forest-steppe gave way to steppe, the culture’s ecological equilibrium was stressed and a way of life was adopted to mirror their more technologically advanced neighbours.”

About the exhibition:

Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: the Remarkable Trypilian Culture (5400 – 2700 BC) comprises artifacts excavated in 1896 by Khvoika himself, those excavated from other numerous Trypilian sites, as well as objects from the ROM’s collections, excavated in southwest Asia and Balkan Europe. Visitors will gain greater insight into the world of the Trypilians through the exhibition’s six sections:

Who were the Trypilians? introduces visitors to Trypilians – who they were, when and where they lived, and how they were sustained. Original reports and drawings by Khvoika and objects that he unearthed, create intrigue and provide insight into the archaeological mind at work, as the archaeologist tried to make sense of an hitherto lost society. A sampling of artifacts, including one of Khvoika’s earthenware jars, dating to 3500 BC, its surface rich with incised curvilinear ornamentation, is on display.

To place the Trypilian culture in context, The Neolithic Revolution examines the development of human societies in Europe from the end of the last Ice Age to the arrival of Copper Age cultures, including Trypilian. Other Neolithic cultures, such as the Halaf, from what is now known as northern Syria and south-eastern Turkey, and the Vinca from what is now known as modern Serbia, are juxtaposed, their artistic legacies having much in common. Here, visitors can study the earthenware portrait of a pensive male face, created by the Vinca approximately 7,500 years ago, and which bears striking similarity to the ‘realistic’ portraits of Trypillia.

The section titled Extraordinary Settlements focuses on the Trypilian’s substantial communities, how the Trypilians cultivated grain and vegetables, herded domesticated animals, hunted, and gathered fruit from undomesticated plants and trees. This area explores how, under such ideal conditions, it is likely that the Trypilian population grew faster than that of other Neolithic peoples; it is perhaps no wonder that they built the largest settlements of the time. The question of why the Trypilians deliberately set fire to these buildings before abandonment is also highlighted. Aerial photographs, including archaeological digs, provide evidence from a variety of locations, including Talianky, the largest Trypilian town discovered thus far, covering 4.5 square kilometres. Artifacts here feature copper
tools, model sledges, zoomorphic figurines including wheeled animal models and a miniature herd of cattle. In addition to an exploration of the technical aspects of Trypilian pottery making, drawings, illustrations and a 3D miniature schematic model of a Trypilian village are also on display.

Domestic Life presents other architectural structures, particularly houses, some of which were two storey. Included is a newly built custom model of a Trypilian house in a winter setting, showing a number of household activities. This section also highlights mysterious objects surmised to be of cultic or spiritual significance, believed to come from the ‘spiritual corner’ of a Trypilian home, as well as a collection of remarkable model buildings, eminently Trypilian in design, and usually on stilts. In reality, Trypilian houses were never built above ground, so the purpose they served, or what is depicted, whether house, shrine or something else, remains unknown. Visitors can view separate artifacts consisting of household tools, ceramic storage, cooking and serving containers, in addition to evidence of clothing and personal adornment.

Spirituality and Artistic Expression highlights various puzzling pieces of ceramic art made by the Trypilians - specifically anthropomorphic figurines (ranging from stylized to quasi-realistic) and containers decorated in various ways (incised, monochromatic, polychromatic). Found in many Neolithic cultures, the female figurines on display, with exaggerated feminine features, are believed by some scholars to represent a ‘great mother goddess’. Other ceramic objects, such as footed platforms, and enigmatic, hollow “binocular” pieces, attest to the spiritual and ritual life of the Trypilians.

The exhibition’s final stop, entitled Continuing Discoveries, emphasizes the ongoing interest and activity in Trypilian archaeology and features recently excavated objects. It also discusses how the Trypilians engaged in trade with neighbouring pastoral and semi-pastoral peoples - the steppe peoples to the east and the Usatove people to the south. While there is no indication that the Trypilians succumbed to conquest, this section discusses the hypotheses as to how this ancient culture mysteriously disappeared.

Visitors to Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: the Remarkable Trypilian Culture (5400 – 2700 BC) will be able to enjoy a variety of companion programming. As part of the Museum’s Lunch ‘n’ Learn Series, exhibition curator Krzysztof Ciuk presents Mysteries of the Trypilian Culture on Tuesday, February 17, 2009 and Sunday, February 22, 2009 from 11:30 am to 2:00 pm. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about the artifacts and culture of an ancient civilization in the Ukraine, followed by a catered lunch and tour of the exhibition. Cost is $85 for the public (online $80) and $75 for ROM members (online $70).

Select books on Ukrainian culture and cuisine, as well as custom jewellery and home décor, featuring Trypilian motifs, in addition to works created by local Ukrainian Canadian artists, will be available at the ROM Museum Store. For the duration of the exhibition, the ROM’s c5 restaurant lounge and Food Studio will offer a variety of sweet to savory Ukrainian-inspired menu items. Food Studio, the museum’s casual family restaurant, will serve delicious cabbage rolls, perogies with sour cream, poppy seed cake and Ukrainian honey cake. c5 restaurant, offering a unique dining experience at the pinnacle of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, will feature a special menu of ham hock and cheese perogies in a cabbage and pork broth.

A colourful and authoritative 264-page catalogue entitled Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: the Remarkable Trypilian Culture (5400 – 2700 BC) brings together general information and essays about this remarkable people. The essential companion to the ROM exhibition, the catalogue will be available in the ROM Museum Store for $60 plus applicable taxes.

An opening weekend celebration, Ukrainian Day at the ROM is Sunday, November 30, 2008. Ukrainian Day programming takes place from 11 am to 4 pm and is free with general ROM admission. The day includes live music and a Ukrainian family activity zone, where young visitors can learn about Ukrainian archeology and create plasticine and clay replicas of artifacts to take home. From 12 pm to 4 pm, the ROM will showcase artwork by local Ukrainian Canadian artists in the Rotunda. Ceramic artist Natalia Laluque, egg painter artist Hryhorij Dyczok, jewelry designer Maria Rypan and sculptor Oleh Lesiuk will be in attendance to meet and speak with visitors. From 2 pm to 3:30 pm, Stefura Dancers, Canadian Bandurist Capella and Bayinok Dancers take to the stage in Samuel Hall  Currelly Gallery. At 3:30 pm, Krzysztof Ciuk, Assistant Curator of Islamic History and Archaeology and curator of Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: The Remarkable Trypilian Culture (5400-2700 BC), will speak about the creation of the exhibition in the Signy and Cléophée Eaton Theatre. Full details will be posted at A sold-out Gala celebrating the opening of the exhibition takes place on Thursday, November 27, 2008. Guests will enjoy a gourmet dinner and an exclusive preview.

School Visits are offered for Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: the Remarkable Trypilian Culture (5400 – 2700 BC) at both the elementary and secondary levels. Who were the Trypilians? How were they able to build the largest settlements in the world well over 5,000 years ago? And why did they burn them down? Students will explore these and other questions on this fascinating exhibition that uncovers the secrets surrounding this mysterious people. For information on School Visits, or 416.586.5801.

Admission to Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: the Remarkable Trypilian Culture (5400 – 2700 BC) is included in general museum admission: Adults: $22; Students and Seniors with ID: $19; Children (4 to 14 years) $15; Children 3 & under are free.
Groups of 10 or more adults enjoy special savings and added benefits from discounted rates and meals to private tours and other customized services. For more information call 416.586.5889 or visit

Half Price Friday Nights, presented by SunLife Financial, from 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm: Adults: $11; Students and Seniors with ID: $9.50; Children: $7.50.