The splendid array of objects that form Golden Treasures and Lost Civilizations was gathered over decades – rescued from the open market in an effort to preserve Ukrainian cultural patrimony. They come from diverse archaeological sites, their precise source unknown, and their provenance long since unavailable. Yet they offer, within this limiting context, a good deal of information. They speak eloquently of a history, nearly 7,000 years long, of habitation and artistic creativity.

The phrase “Old Europe” has been used to suggest the beginnings of a gradual evolution that eventually accelerated into a Neolithic Revolution which continued toward the Bronze Age. “Old Europe” culture within the approximate area of contemporary Ukraine is referred to in its Neolithic and Chalcolithic phases as Trypillian culture. The name is based on that of the village of Trypillia, southwest of present-day Kyiv.

Perhaps as early as 4500 – 4000 B.C., before the first cities were built in Mesopotamia or Egypt, a series of large, effectively urbanized communities flourished with the technological, ideological, religious, and political structures that we associate with civilization. During the peak phase there were as many as ten enormous settlements of up to nearly 3,000 buildings covering an area well over 1,100 acres, and consisting of several concentric circles of dwellings, with the central area usually free of structures. The inhabitants constructed substantial homes of wood and clay, often two stories high. They created sophisticated pottery with complex decorations and a fascinating array of figurative statuary and engaged in long-distance trade. Mysteriously, every few generations they burned their structures, rebuilt on the ashes or moved on to a different location. By 3500 – 3000 B.C. this civilization began to go into decline, collapsing by about 2700 B.C.

During the Iron Age – the era when Greek culture was taking shape and diverse civilizations, from Assyria to Persia, were coming into power and into focus – Ukrainian artifacts reflected multiple cultural influences. This continued as the Hellenistic Greek world began to be politically reshaped – but culturally continuous – into the Roman world after about 100 B.C. In precious metal objects we may discern Greek and Roman, but also Persian and probably Georgian and certainly “Scythian” influences.

The transition toward a Christian identity for Ukraine is signified by a 5th – 6th century A.D. lamp decorated with a relief image of the crucified Christ. By the late 10th century, Christianity had become firmly implanted as the official religion of an empire referred to as the Kyivan Rus’. In the 11th century Kyiv, in its Golden Age, was at the apogee of its political power and spiritual presence.

A 12th – 13th century cross of iron and silver offers the crucified Christ, his head listing to his right, and flanked by the Mother of God and Saint John the Baptist, below. God the Father presides above, holding an archiepiscopal or patriarchal cross with two transverse horizontal bars – symbolizing the ongoing liturgical importance of Kyiv at a time by which its cultural, political, and military stature were dissipating.

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This exhibition invites us to ask what the essence of “Ukraine” might be and how that has evolved over time. Moreover, it asks how we might define “civilization” within the larger context of defining “humanity.” The varied objects encompass the question of how to characterize the field of archaeology and its methods of acquisition and interpretation. How much can we know about what these artifacts meant to those who made them? How is our ability to understand affected by whether or not we know precisely where and under what conditions they were originally excavated?

We are grateful to the Museum of National Cultural Heritage PlaTar and the Industrial Union of Donbass, especially Sergei Taruta and Nikolai Platonov whose generosity has made this exhibition possible.