By Ruby Prosser Scully Archaeologists recently discovered megastructures in a giant settlement in Ukraine, called MaidanetskeDigitalGlobe/GeoEye The mysterious megastructures of ancient eastern Europe were hubs of social and political decision making, but their role in centralising political control may have led to the downfall of these societies. Tripolye culture spread from modern-day Moldova and Romania into the Ukraine and is known for its finely crafted pottery and huge settlements. These large settlements, which were home to up to 10,000 inhabitants, could stretch hundreds of hectares across and are the largest in prehistoric Europe. The settlements emerged around 4100-years-ago and appear to have stopped being built around 3600-years-ago. Since then, many remain buried underground. Advertisement From 2009, sophisticated imaging tools revealed that these settlements were also home to rectangular buildings that were bigger than houses and typically situated in open spaces near these domestic buildings. In comparison to homes, which were around 15 metres long and 7 metres wide, the megastructures were up to 65 metres long and 10 metres wide. Archaeologists recently discovered megastructures in a giant settlement in Ukraine, called Maidanetske, but the purpose of them has been unclear. To find out what they were used for, Robert Hofmann at Kiel University, Germany, and his colleagues compared the structures of Maidanetske to more than 100 other megastructures in 19 other ancient European settlements. Comparing the maps of these settlements, Hofmann and his colleagues determined that the megastructures, typically made from clay-covered split wood and log timbers, occupied important positions in the layout of the settlement. While houses were lined up in concentric rings, megastructures were built within the ring corridor, at pathways or on the outskirts of the settlement. Some were in open plaza-like spaces. The megastructures look like community centres that serve several different purposes in other cultures, including economic and political decision-making and religious functions, says Hofmann. But the team found a shift in the type of structures used in public spaces over time. Around 4100 BC, multiple smaller megastructures existed in different parts of the settlement, to cater to different segments of the community, says Hofmann. Over time, the number of smaller- and medium-sized structures declined, leaving only the largest of the megastructures. The findings suggest that the collapse of these town-like settlements by 3600BCE was preceded by a strong centralisation of the social and political decision-making processes, says Hofmann. It could be because such centralisation was dysfunctional, or because the population didn’t accept that model of society, he says. Journal reference: PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0222243 More on these topics: archaeology