Introduction

Location map of the Tripolye-Cucuteni groupLocation map of the Tripolye-Cucuteni group

The project 'Early urbanism in prehistoric Europe: the case of the Tripillia mega-sites' is an AHRC-funded study of early urbanism in prehistoric Europe. The fundamental approach to state formation was developed in the 1950s by Childe, who argued for the priority of Near Eastern complexity over that of Europe. The current view remains that the earliest states in Europe—the Minoans and Myceneans—were secondary formations dating to after 2400 BC. This view has consistently ignored the development of Tripillia 'mega-sites' in 4th millennium Eastern Europe, the largest of which are bigger than the Early Bronze Age city of Uruk. It is clear that the Tripillia phenomenon is an unusual but neglected development in the context of early Eurasian states (Anthony 2007; Videiko 2007). The primary aim of the project is a re-evaluation of Tripillia social and settlement developments through the inter-disciplinary study of a single mega-site in its local, regional, and Eurasian settlement contexts. A second, theoretical aim of the project is the development of interpretative archaeologies dealing with state formation, since this 'Big Question' of social evolution has been dominated by 'top-down' hierarchical approaches rather than a 'bottom-up' approach building on local household nodes and networks.

The Project seeks to deliver field data and interpretation on a scale never attempted on mega-sites, whose very size makes them difficult to investigate. The central methodological issue is how to place the 1,000–2,000 structures on a mega-site in a sequence, so as to demonstrate how many houses were occupied at the same time and permit the building of an accurate demographic site model. The Project has formulated a novel methodology to solve this problem, which it successfully tested in the field at the mega-site of Nebelivka, in Kirovograd Domain. The Project has also identified a number of wetlands near the mega-site for testing the scale of human impact on its environment. In these ways, the project will make a breakthrough in the understanding of Tripillia mega-sites and our understanding of the origins of complex societies and urban settlement in Eurasia.

Google Earth view of the Nebelivka mega-siteGoogle Earth view of the Nebelivka mega-site