Eneolithic Period

Eneolithic Period or Copper Age [енеоліт, мідний вік; eneolit, midnyi vik]. An archeological period (ca. 5000–3300 BC) that followed the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age) and began the era of the Metal Ages (Eneolithic/Chalcolithic/Copper Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age). In Ukraine the beginning of the Eneolithic correlates with the finds of first archeological evidence of copper smelting in the Balkans, ca. 5000 BC. The continuum of Mesolithic- Neolithic hunter-fishers that dominated the population landscape of Ukraine since the Ice Age (the Upper Paleolithic Period) started to give way to the agrarian populations of the Cucuteni-Trypillia archeological complex, advancing from the Balkan-Carpathian region, and the predecessors of the Serednii Stih culture, migrating from the lower Volga-North Caucasus region. First evidence of Serednii Stih in Ukraine is found in the context of the terminal phase of the Neolithic population groups that left cemeteries of extended burials of Mariupol type. Serednii Stih formed in the lower Dnipro River Valley and the steppe region north of the Sea of Azov in the early 5th millennium BC, expanding throughout the north Black Sea steppe in subsequent centuries. In the west, Serednii Stih reached the lower Danube River area and continued to expand inland, reaching the Tysa River Valley (at Csongrád-Kettőshalom) and Transylvania (at Decea Mureşului) by the second half of the 5th millennium BC. The western expanse of Serednii Stih is associated with the groups that left cemeteries of the Suvorove-Novodanylivka type, characterized by their lavish burial goods. These included zoomorphic stone ‘scepters,’ long flint blades, intricately ornamented weaponry, and personal adornments made of copper and gold. Suvorove-Novodanylivka took part in the circum-Pontic trade network, forming by the middle of the first half of the 5th millennium BC and reaching as far as the forest-steppe region of the north Caspian Sea. In Ukraine, the trade network involved the Trypillia culture, which expanded from the eastern foothills of the Carpathian Mountains to the Dnipro Valley by the end of the 5th millennium BC. Interactions between Trypillia and Serednii Stih are also evident from the ornamental pattern of steppe origin in Trypillian ceramics (so-called Cucuteni C pottery).

The Cucuteni-Trypillia archeological complex (CTAC) formed on the foundation of the Neolithic farming communities of central Europe and the Balkans. In Ukraine, this complex is known as the Trypillia culture. Archeologists place the origin of CTAC in Transylvania. Genetic studies show that Trypillian ancestry was predominantly of the Neolithic European farmer origin, with some contribution of European hunter gatherers. Early Trypillian communities in Ukraine started to appear in the beginning of the 5th millennium BCE along the eastern foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. As the Trypillians expanded eastward, they settled along the major river systems of Ukraine, eventually reaching the Dnipro River Valley by the middle of the 5th millennium BC.

The reciprocal influence of the Trypillia culture on the Serednii Stih horizon became pronounced during the first part of the 4th millennium BC. Following the aridization of the climate by the end of the 5th millennium, some Serednii Stih groups moved from the steppe to the forest-steppe area of the Dnipro River Valley. There, Serednii Stih engaged in stock breeding and limited agriculture, the latter influenced by neighboring Trypillian communities. The forest-steppe Serednii Stih groups of the Deriivka type kept domesticated horses among their livestock. It is not clear whether horseback riding was already taking place, although there is evidence that Serednii Stih people already rode horses in the 5th millennium, evidenced by the ‘horsemanship syndrome’ in the bones of a Serednii Stih individual from Csongrád-Kettőshalom in Hungary.

The return to mild climate conditions in the early 4th millennium BC led to the expansion of the Trypillia culture into the border area between the steppe and the forest-steppe. Large Trypillian settlements (mega-sites) of the scale not seen anywhere in contemporaneous Europe or Asia, started to emerge in south-central Ukraine. In the northwest Black Sea steppe, in the Danube-Dnister interfluve, Trypillia and the post-Suvorove-Novodanylivka Serednii Stih groups participated in the formation of the Usatove culture. Usatove people buried their dead in ground necropoli as well as kurhans. Usatove kurhan architecture is among the earliest kurhan constructions in the Black Sea steppe. There is also evidence of social stratification in Usatove, which was also likely of the steppe influence. The main economic resource of Usatove was probably the gathering of salt in the open-air estuaries of the lower Dnister River, which was supplied to the agricultural Trypillian and the stock-breeding late Serednii Stih communities. It is also likely that Usatovans raised sheep for wool. Usatove also excelled at metal craftsmanship, which shows influences from Anatolia as well as the Caucasus Mountains. The genetic ancestry of Usatove was primary Trypillian and Serednii Stih, with contribution from North Caucasus.

In the second half of the 5th millennium, the use of wheeled wagons became evident throughout the Black Sea-Caspian steppe. Wheeled wagon transportation likely emerged in the Funnelbeaker culture (FBC) communities of southern Poland around Bronocice, where one of the earliest depictions of a wheeled wagon was found. The wagon use subsequently expanded into the steppe via the Trypillia culture, which neighbored FBC in the Podilia region of Ukraine. Wagon transportation was extensively utilized by the communities of the Zhyvotylivka-Volchansk type. Zhyvotylivka-Volchansk funerary attributes combined elements of the Gordineşti group of late Trypillia and the Maikop communities of Northern Caucasia. Despite the cultural foundation in agricultural communities, the lifestyle of Zhyvotylivka-Volchansk was highly mobile, covering the entire north Black Sea steppe and parts of forest-steppe, and extending into the Manych steppe of west Caspian region. It is the Zhyvotylivka-Volchansk population where some archeologists see the emergence of the attributes characteristic to the Yamna archeological culture complex, a historical-cultural phenomenon that transformed Europe in the Early Bronze Age.

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Alexey G. Nikitin

[This article was written in 2023.]

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