Civilization of the Goddess

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* Book: The Civilization of the Goddess. By Marija Gimbutas.



"In Gimbutas’ last book The Civilization of the Goddess, which synthesizes the work and theses of her previous books (Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe 1974/1982 and The Language of the Goddess 1989/1991), she wrote, “The primordial deity for our Paleolithic and Neolithic ancestors was female, reflecting the sovereignty of motherhood. In fact, there are no images that have been found of a Father God throughout the prehistoric record. Paleolithic and Neolithic symbols and images cluster around a self-generating Goddess and her basic functions as Giver-of-Life, Wielder-of-Death, and as Regeneratrix.” Further in Civilization of the Goddess Gimbutas outlines the symbolic understanding Old European societies had of the universe and the divine. She wrote, “The multiple categories, functions, and symbols used by prehistoric peoples to express the Great Mystery are all aspects of the unbroken unity of one deity, a Goddess who is ultimately Nature herself.” For a complete list of her publications see the Marija Gimbutas bibliography.

Her discoveries took on great symbolic importance for feminists across varied disciplines who found, in her vision of a peaceful, egalitarian, nature-revering society, a sense of hope for the future based on this foundation in the distant past. Unintended to her, Marija Gimbutas’ impact was so great that it reached beyond the scholarly community and helped fuel the women’s movement in society at large. Though scholars on methodological and ideological grounds have challenged her work, this very work fueled the initial tangible, scientific, and material support for the hypotheses that cultures existed wherein patriarchy did not rule, war and violence was not assumed as a cultural norm, and that there were, in fact, egalitarian social structures. In honor of her contribution to the mutual enrichment of cultures for universal understanding and peace, UNESCO designated Gimbutas among its milestone anniversary commemorations for 2021 in observance of her centenary year."



"In The Civilization of the Goddess, Marija Gimbutas was the first scholar to describe an overview of Neolithic cultures on a pan-European scale (including habitation patterns, social structure, art, religion and literacy) and to articulate the differences between the matristic Old European and the patriarchal Indo-European Bronze Age systems. This book provides an essential key for deciphering the contrasting cultural elements that became entangled and fused in subsequent European societies."



Charlene Spretnak:

The Civilization of Neolithic “Old Europe”

"In 1956, as a Research Fellow at the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, Marija Gimbutas published The Prehistory of Eastern Europe, the very first monograph to present a comprehensive evaluation of the Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Copper Age cultures in Russia and the Baltic area. Until this volume appeared, the information available to Western scholars about the prehistory of Eastern Europe was fragmentary due to linguistic and political barriers.6 After thirteen years at Harvard, Marija Gimbutas accepted a full professorship in European Archaeology at UCLA in 1963 and produced, among other works, studies of the prehistoric Balts and Slavs, and the comprehensive Bronze Age Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe in 1965, which established her world-wide reputation as an expert on the European Bronze Age. Gimbutas recognized that the Neolithic and Copper Age settlements of southeastern Europe were not primitive versions of later Bronze Age cultures. Instead, these earlier societies were radically different in numerous aspects from what came later in terms of burial patterns (roughly egalitarian between males and females), the use of a sophisticated symbol system (evidence of a systematic use of linear signs for the communication of ideas), widespread evidence of domestic rituals (with a vast outpouring of elegant ritual ceramics), the continual creation and use of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines (the vast majority being female), and the absence of weapons and organized warfare. Because of the sophisticated level of cultural development; the long-lasting, stable societies; their commonalities regarding an egalitarian social structure; the well-built houses and community design; the refinement of technologies and material culture; evidence of the development of a script; and inter-connections through long-distance trade, Gimbutas determined that the non-Indo-European cultures of southeastern and eastern Europe during the Neolithic era constituted a civilization, which she called “Old Europe.” She produced the first overview of this civilization in 1991, The Civilization of the Goddess, in which she drew from her extensive knowledge of past and present excavation reports. These were available to her because she read thirteen languages and traveled extensively as an exchange scholar cultivating professional relationships throughout the region. (Most of these site reports are still not translated, so many of her Anglo-American detractors are unable to read them.) She herself was the project director of five major excavations of Neolithic sites in southeastern Europe."


The Indo-European Transformation of “Old Europe”

"Gimbutas combined her extensive background in linguistic paleontology with archaeological evidence to develop an explanatory model initially known as the “Kurgan Hypothesis” in order to locate the homeland of Proto-Indo-European speakers and to explain the extensive spread of Indo-European languages and the dramatic cultural changes that took place in Europe between c. 4500-2500 B.C.E.7 Gimbutas coined the term “Kurgan culture” to refer to the pastoral communities found as early as the fifth millennium B.C.E. in the Volga-Ural-Caspian steppe region north of the Black Sea. She borrowed the term “Kurgan” from a Turkic loan word into Russian meaning “barrow” (a mounded burial site common to early Indo-European cultures, in which a patriarchal chieftain is buried with his possessions, often including his retainers, wives, concubines, horses, and artifacts; this type of burial was never found in Europe before the arrival of Kurgan people). In Gimbutas’ view, these proto-Indo-European speakers of the steppes, who shared many common traits (burial customs, territorial behavior, and patriarchal social structure) infiltrated Copper-Age “Old Europe” in three major waves: c. 4400–4200 BCE, 3400–3200 B.C.E., and 3000–2800 BCE. As these nomadic pastoralists moved into Europe, a cascade of cultural and linguistic changes took place which Gimbutas described as a “collision of cultures” leading to the disruption of the extremely old, stable, egalitarian culture systems of Old Europe and the appearance of warlike Bronze Age societies. Gimbutas’ model, initially presented in 1956 and refined over nearly four decades, emphasizes that the Indo-Europeanization of Old Europe was a complex process with changes rippling in many different ways through a succession of dislocations. In some areas, ancient culture sites were abruptly destroyed and abandoned, often burned down, with indigenous farmers dispersed to the west and northwest; in other places, indigenous and alien traditions coexisted for various periods.8 Gimbutas noted that the Indo-Europeanization of Old European cultures resulted in various local versions of hybrid societies with surviving elements of a non-Indo-European substratum. This explanatory model illuminates various patterns and elements that have survived in European cultures, even into the modern era.9 The archaeologist James Mallory has noted that “the Kurgan theory” has been widely accepted and featured in the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Grand Dictionnaire Encyclopédique Larousse.”10 In addition, research in historical genetic mapping supports Gimbutas’ theory."

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