Friday, January 20, 2012

The Yogurt Vessels of Yore

I have been waiting to see the Antiquities from Ukraine: Golden Treasures and Lost Civilizations exhibit at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis since it arrived in October. The exhibit features loaned objects that are a part of the larger, privately owned collection known as PLATAR, assembled by a pair of Ukrainian industrialists, Serhiy Platonov and Serhiy Taruta. I only thought to snap one photo with my phone but wanted to share a few thoughts about the exhibit nonetheless.

The exhibit features objects from ancient cultures that lived in and around the Black Sea region. These include the Tripilians, the Scythians, the Cimmerians and, finally, Kyivan Rus.
The pieces presented in the exhibit are truly interesting and provide an account of the region over time, as well as its importance as a center of trade and hub in the ancient Silk Road. In addition to being beautiful, many of the artifacts also offer glimpses into the food practices of these early cultures, which are among the oldest known civilizations.

The Trypilian artifacts, dating back 5 to 7 thousand years, were characterized by pottery with swirling designs and interesting forms, including giant bulbous pots, mysterious binocular-shaped vessels and even toys. According to our guide, the Tripilians were a matriarchal culture, where women served as the central figures in society. They were an agrarian people that kept livestock and grew crops including lentils and peas.

There was an interesting scale model of an earthen Tripilian home on stubby stilts. This, we were told, was an architectural form much like the much more recent barn homes of central Europe, where the animals live below and their heat rises to warm the people in the story above.
One of my favorite pieces was the bovine-shaped vessel above. Although it looks more ornamental than practical to me, the plaque suggested, it was used by the ancient Trypilians for storing milk, yogurts and fresh cheeses.

Moving onto the Bronze Age, the exhibit features glimmering tokens of war and prestige. In addition to some weaponry and lavish jewelry, from the nomadic Scythians, there were golden bowls and vessels. There was a stunning drinking horn shaped like a ram. I would totally quaff from it, if given the opportunity. As I perused the Kyivan Rus section, I noticed a dazzling set of golden calf earrings, eluding to the importance of livestock in these societies. Many of the artifacts here reflect the influence of Greek travelers in this part of the Black Sea region, something we have also found in contemporary foodways and local cultures of the Crimea, as well as the Dombass and Mariupol regions.

The exhibit visited museums in Omaha and Houston before coming to Minneapolis, the last stop in its US tour. The exhibit is a bit controversial because the origins of the artifacts are largely unknown. The objects were obtained “on the open market” and do raise questions about acquisitions. Ukraine's archaeological heritage has often fallen victim to looters and remains a source of concern for many n the archaeological community.

Antiquities from Ukraine: Golden Treasures and Lost Civilizations will be at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis until February 14, 2012. Be sure to check out the Museum's website to view a slideshow of selected artifacts.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like an exhibition we had here at The ROM museum in Toronto, Canada a few years ago. I missed it but my cousins said it was very good.

    Thanks for sharing. love your Blog.