Settlement and Economy in Neolithic Ukraine: A New Chronology

Article excerpt

Defining the Neolithic

The question of the origins and subsequent development of food-producing economies in Ukraine in the prehistoric period is comparatively well studied for many cultures such as the Linear pottery, Bug-Dniester, Surska and Dnieper-Donets cultures, among others. Numerous papers have been published relating to the timing of animal domestication and the species composition of food producing communities (Bibikova 1963; Formozov 1972; Krainov 1957; Tsalkin 1970; Telegin 1977), but the precise definition of the transition to agriculture remains to be established (cf. Zvelebil 1995). Faunal studies have shown that domesticated cattle and pigs were available to the Neolithic cultures in Ukraine and Moldova mentioned above, and in addition it appears that sheep/goat formed part of the Linear pottery cultures resource base. In addition, sheep is listed amongst the faunal remains found in Neolithic horizons of Rakushechny Yar near the Don River (Belanovskaia 1995). Krizhevskaya (1998: 248) reports the presence of sheep/goat at the Matveev Kurgan settlements (I and II) which are located on the river Mius on the north side of the Azov Sea. The former of these sites is dated to 7180 [+ or -] 78 and 7505 [+ or -] 210 BP (St. Petersburg and Groningen lab.), which calibrate to 6220-5890BC and 6600-6050BC respectively.

Cultures such as Bug-Dniester have their genesis in the preceding Mesolithic period, with the Soroki stage of this culture following on from the Grebeniki Mesolithic culture to the west of the Dnieper (Markevich 1974; Tringham 1969, 1971). Importantly, as with the Dnieper-Donets communities, the early stages of the Bug-Dniester 'Neolithic' economies included a large proportion of wild species such as red-deer, roe-deer, wild horse, aurochs, wild pig and wolf, and these groups are aceramic (cf. Dolukhanov & Khotinskiy 1984). These early stages of the Dnieper-Donets and Bug-Dniester cultures fail to fulfil the traditional categorisation of 'they have pots therefore they are Neolithic'.

On the basis of this observation Dolukhanov (1979) and Zvelebil and Dolukhanov (1991) propose a division of Bug-Dniester into an aceramic phase dated to 5500-4900 BC and a ceramic phase dated to 4900-4400 BC. In light of the new dating of the Dnieper-Donets sites presented here, it is apparent that the similarities in fabric, form and decoration of pottery between Dnieper-Donets and Bug-Dniester can no longer be considered incompatible on chronological grounds (Telegin et al. 2002). In addition, it should be noted that the early, aceramic stages of both of these cultures would result in their categorisation, in western European convention, as 'Mesolithic' fisher-hunter-gatherer societies. The securely attributed adoption of domesticates in the Bug-Dniester culture occurs in the later stages of its evolution.

Along with domesticated animals, the Bug-Dniester and the subsequent Linear pottery culture, and also the later Dnieper-Donets communities, were all practising arable agriculture to differing degrees. The populations of these cultures cultivated several species of wheat and barley as well as millet, oats, vetch and rye (Yanushevich & Markevich 1970; Kulczycka-Lieciejewiczowa 1979; Okhrimenko 1993).

Recent research into the absolute age of these cultures in Ukraine has included work by M.M.Kovaliukh, the Head of Kiev Radiocarbon Laboratory, and archaeologists such as M.Yu.Videiko and N.B.Burdo among others. Over twenty dates have been obtained for the Bug-Dniester culture (Videiko & Kovaliukh 1998), eight dates for Surska monuments (Kovaliukh & Tuboltsev 1998) and about twenty dates for the Early Tripolie culture (Burdo & Kovaliukh 1998). Analyses relating to stages B and C of Tripolie, a number of monuments of Sredny Stog II culture, Kamenna Mohila multi-layered settlements near the Sea of Azov, and Rakushechny Yar near the Don River have been carried out at Kiev and other laboratories (Belanovskaia 1995). …