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Houston Museum of Natural Science Sheds Some Light on Ancient Ukraine

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Houstonians will have a chance to experience an archaeological mystery in the Tryptilian culture when Ancient Ukraine - Golden Treasures and Lost Civilizations opens at the Houston Museum of Natural Science next week. The Tryptilians, whose civilization dates back 7,000 years, lived in closely packed communities of 10,000 to 15,000 people. But they lived in these settlements in succession, not side-by-side, Anthropology Curator Dirk Van Tuerenhout says.

"Roughly every 50, 60, 70 years, these communities would be destroyed by fire, but intentionally," he says. "Then they would move down the road and build another one of those settlements."

But here's where it gets interesting: No one really knows exactly why the settlements were burned. Van Tuerenhout says some scholars think it was because the people were farmers and had depleted the soil; others think the soil depletion was caused by runoff, a side-effect of over-zealous wood harvesting; still others think it might have been because of disease; and some say it was a combination of all three factors.

"That's what makes it so interesting to me," Van Tuernhout says. "We don't have answers to everything. We don't have an open-and-shut case like Greek and Roman archaeology where it's like 'let me look it up real quick, because I'm sure some guy wrote about that at some point.' We don't have writing from these people. We have some symbols from these people some argue maybe could have been writing...but it's nothing like Greece, Rome, Egypt. And so archaeology has to come to the rescue."

Exhibit attendees will be able to see pottery from the Tryptilian period, including vessels decorated with the same intricate designs that could until recently still be seen on Easter eggs decorated by Houston's Ukrainian community, Van Tuerenhout says.

In addition to Tryptilian artifacts, visitors will also have a chance to see animal-shaped ornaments from the Scythian period, bronze sculpture and gold jewelry from the Hellenistic period, and plenty of Roman and Byzantine artifacts. But it's the stuff from the earliest days that is perhaps the most intriguing. "It's not part of the curriculum in the Western world, but it's definitely part of the curriculum in Eastern Europe and countries like Romania and the Ukraine and Moldova," Van Tuerenhout says. "It's a window into a world most people, myself included, have heard very little about."

Ancient Ukraine-Golden Treasures and Lost Civilizations opens May 27 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Dr. For more information, visit www.hmns.org or call 713-639-4629.

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