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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Marija Gimbutas
Marija Gimbutas Triumphant: Colin Renfrew Concedes by Carol P. Christ

The disdain with which the work of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas has been held in the field of classics and archaeology was shown to me when I stated quietly at a cocktail party at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens that I was interested in her work. This comment, tentatively offered, unleashed a tirade from a young female archaeologist who began shouting at me: “Her work is unscholarly and because it is, it is harder for me and other women scholars in the field to be taken seriously.”

Responding to the backlash against her theories, Gimbutas is said to have told a female colleague that it might take decades, but eventually the value of her work would be recognized. It is now more than twenty years since Marija Gimbutas died in 1994, and the value of her work is beginning to be recognized by (at least some of) her colleagues—including one of her harshest critics. In a lecture titled “Marija Rediviva: DNA and Indo-European Origins,” renowned archaeologist Lord Colin Renfrew (allied with the British Conservative Party**), who had been one of Gimbutas’s most vociferous antagonists and a powerful gate-keeper, concluded the inaugural Marija Gimbutas Lecture at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago with these words: “Marija [Gimbutas]’s Kurgan hypothesis has been magnificently vindicated.”

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    It is so great to read this. The wedge has forced open the door, and it can never be closed again. It will only get wider and mo
  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ says #
    I agree with you Ted, once the door is open, the waters will be rushing through.
  • Thesseli
    Thesseli says #
    So nice to read this! My undergraduate degree is in archaeology, and it's wonderful to finally see what was always there (but nev
The Mountain Mother: Reading the Language of the Goddess in Ancient Crete

Before he told the story of how his people received the sacred pipe, Black Elk said:

So I know that it is a good thing I am going to do; and because no good thing can be done by any man alone, I will first make an offering and send a voice to the Spirit of the World, that it may help me to be true. See, I fill this sacred pipe with the bark of the red willow; but before we smoke it, you must see how it is made and what it means. These four ribbons hanging here on the stem are the four quarters of the universe. The black one is for the west where the thunder beings live to send us rain; the white one for the north, whence comes the great white cleansing wind; the red one for the east, whence springs the light and where the morning star lives to give men wisdom; the yellow for the south, whence come the summer and the power to grow.

But these four spirits are only one Spirit after all, and this eagle feather here is for that One, which is like a father, and also it is for the thoughts of men that should rise high as eagles do. Is not the sky a father and the earth a mother, and are not all living things with feet or wings or roots their children? And this hide upon the mouthpiece here, which should be bison hide, is for the earth, from whence we came and at whose breast we suck as babies all our lives, along with all the animals and birds and trees and grasses. And because it means all this, and more than any man can understand, the pipe is holy. [italics added]

In this passage Black Elk illustrates the multivalency of symbols: the sacred pipe does not have a single meaning, but many meanings, in fact, more meanings than anyone can understand.

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Was There a "Golden Age" before Patriarchy and War?

Marija Gimbutas coined the term “Old Europe” c.6500-3500 BCE to describe peaceful, sedentary, artistic, matrifocal, matrilineal and probably matrilocal agricultural societies that worshipped the Goddess as the power of birth, death, and regeneration in all of life. Gimbutas argued that Old Europe was overthrown by Indo-European speaking invaders who began to enter Europe from the steppes north of the Black Sea beginning about 4400 BCE.  The Indo-Europeans were patrilineal and patriarchal, mobile and warlike, having domesticated the horse, were not highly artistic and worshiped the shining Gods of the sky reflected in their bronze weapons.

In the fields of classics and archaeology, Gimbutas’s work is often dismissed as nothing more than a fantasy of a “golden age.” In contrast, scholars of Indo-European languages, Gimbutas’s original specialty, are much more likely to accept the general outlines of her hypothesis. The German linguist and cultural scientist Harald Haarmann is one of them.

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Little Clay Goddess

The little clay goddess went out into the garden on Planting Day.

Ohmigods.

Now I practically need a machete to get into the garden.

The tomatoes have been the size of grapefruits.

The collard leaves are as big as skillets.

The squash vine, umbilical, not content with taking over the garden, is in the process of claiming the entire back yard. I'm expecting it to grab me as I go out the door any day now.

The butternuts it bears are each more than a foot long. The last one I cooked weighed two and a half pounds.

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Mother Tongue

We don't know what language was spoken by the Copper Age peoples of what Marija Gimbutas called “Old Europe.”

But whatever it was, we still—in a sense—speak it today.

English is an Indo-European language. The Indo-European languages all descend from a language spoken during the late Stone Age on the prairies (“steppes”) between the Black and Caspian Seas. This language was spoken by a milk-drinking, pastoralist people who domesticated the horse and invented (and named) the wheel. (Our wheel comes ultimately from their word *kwelkwlos, literally a “turn-turn.”)

Their nearest neighbors, to the southwest, in what is now Ukraine, Poland, and Rumania, were the Cucuteni-Tripolye cultures made famous by archaeologist and feminist ideologue Marija Gimbutas. These were settled farmers, eaters of bread and beans, whose bold, swirling designs, striking ceramics, and fetching little female figurines still speak directly to us today.

These two, the Indo-European and the Old European, were, in effect, our Father and Mother Cultures.

And we still speak their languages today.

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Lady of the Thrice-Plowed Furrow

You could call them the Clay Ladies.

The ancestors made them by the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands: little naked women, poised on pointed toes to stand calf-deep in the good tilled soil of our gardens and fields.

We've been doing this since the end of the last Ice Age, and we still do. No one needs to be told why we put them there.

The best magic explains itself.

There they stand, graciously bestowing their gift of fruitfulness, looking as if they are rising from the Earth.

They are Earth itself, formlessness rising into form. The goddess rising from Earth was a minor (but not uncommon) motif in ancient Greek art, and rightly so. The furrow parts: the goddess is born.

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The Clay Ladies

You could call them the “Clay Ladies,” as our coven kid Robin did.

They exist in their tens—if not hundreds—of thousands across the world.

Goddesses? Fertility magic? Who can say?

Clearly, they're symbolic. Clearly, they're meaningful. We shouldn't expect that they meant the same thing to every culture that made (and makes) them. But to claim that they have no religious significance (as some academics have done) seems to me to fly in the face of general human experience. And if (incredibly) they never did before: well, they certainly do now.

And sometimes, I think, we can also say: this much, at least.

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