Women of Prehistroy cvr 1 Invisible Women of Prehistory by Judy Foster with Marlene Derlet, restores one’s faith in human existence. Patriarchal capitalism is not inevitable! Greed, male violence against women, the earth, and endless wars did not exist 6000 years ago.

We often think of history as a linear development in which we are steadily moving out of a violent and patriarchal past to a more equitable and peaceful future. While we have no shortage of wars – and the incidence of violence against women is alarmingly high – we are told that humans have never lived in such peaceful times. We continually hear that our predecessors were violent but also that patriarchy is inevitable and universal. But what if none of this were true? What if we were descended from peaceful societies in which women were respected and equal to men?

I thank Judy Foster and Marlene Derlet for their curiosity and dedication and Spinifex Press for this publication that is packed with ideas challenging our current understandings of the past. This dense book  reassures its readers that three million years of peace, a period when women’s status in society was much higher than it is now, preceded the last six thousand years of war during which men have come to hold power over women. We can consider the possibility that if peace existed thousands of years ago, then why not now.

Invisible Women of Prehistory emanated from Judy Foster’s inclination to discover and record the truth about women’s roles in prehistory. Judy Foster has always been interested in symbolic imagery; her background in art and design exposed her to stimulating art history books from which she learnt of the early societies which were suddenly, violently invaded and destroyed. Information about these communities was sparse but clearly they were cultured people, creators of wonderful painted symbols and rock images such as those from northern Australia, and the renown animal painting in European caves. Judy Foster’s curiosity, particularly as to why women featured so prominently in symbols and artefacts led her to The Language of The Goddess (1989), the major works of Lithuanian archeologist and mythologist Marija Gimbutas.

Marija Gimbutas had previously provided evidence of women-centred societies in prehistory, particularly in eastern Europe. This she had found through the discovery of thousands of female figurines  recorded in The Living Goddess and which are evidence of the ‘powerful presence’ of the female principle beginning 9000 years ago and into the early historical period. This world that existed before written history was revealed using archeology, linguistics and mythology.

Screen shot 2013-05-04 at 6.46.55 PM

Marija Gimbutas discovered that these prehistory female sculptures expressed far more functions than just fertility and motherhood. She defined the goddess as unifying all ‘natural things, as a metaphor for earth’s power’. These peaceful women-centred societies ended as horse-riding invaders spread across Europe and Asia introducing hierarchical systems, violence and male ownership. Male gods and warriors replaced the early goddess symbolic systems now relegated to powerless brides and wives.

Marija Gimbutas’s theory of a prominent female principle has enormous implications for the current status of women considering paleolithic and neolithic women played such an important social and cultural role before the warrior age.   She refused to refer to these early societies as matriarchal as such terminology is understood in relation to patriarchy and  dominance over others. Her preferred terminology of this early societal structure was ‘matristic’ because they were non-hierarchical.

Marija Gimbutas discovered that agriculture had begun well before the emergence of the pastoralist Proto-Indo- Europeans. Non-hierarchical societies in the neolithic period produced many foods by agricultural methods; they kept sheep for wool and built houses and temples and significantly during this time there was no evidence of domination  or violent deaths.

The invasion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans meant the end of communally- owned goods and the beginning of a class-based society with women becoming the property of men. These multi faceted-goddess cultures changed and diminished as did the decreasing the role of women.

And such is our present state of existence. Invisible Women of Prehistory has enormous implications for women today.


Categories: books, feminism, history, war, women's writing

Tags: , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. Marija Gimbutas was a classically trained Lithuanian-American archeologist.[1] By combining traditional archeological “dig-work” with linguistics and mythological interpretation, her pioneering research into the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of “Old Europe” produced profound cultural revelations. Gimbutas unearthed startling evidence of stable, matriarchal, egalitarian societies living in Western Europe before 3000 B.C.E. These civilizations, with some cultural variations, worshipped the Earth as a Mother Goddess. By the 1950s and early 1960s Gimbutas was a renowned and published expert on the Indo-European Bronze Age, as well as on Lithuanian folk art and the prehistory of the Balts and Slavs. Her definitive opus, Bronze Age Cultures of Central and Eastern Europe (1965) reinterpreted European prehistory in light of her backgrounds in linguistics, ethnology, and the history of religions, and challenged many traditional assumptions about the beginnings of European civilization.

  2. Reblogged this on Nettie's Art Studio and commented:
    looking forward to reading this!

  3. You may be interested to read some of the well-researched novels written by American author Jean Auel, beginning with the first in her Earth’s Children series, ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’.
    Jean Auel brings to life a time when Neanderthal and Paleolithic humans existed on the earth at the same time. Both groups had female leaders in the religious and healing roles in the tribe or clan and the predominant deities were Earth Mother figures representing Mother Nature and the power of the earth generally. This reflected their struggle for survival at the mercy of the elements which influenced most of their life decisions and actions.
    Her novels are exhaustively researched and well worth a read for people interested in pre-historical culture and ways of life.

  4. Marija Gimbutas With her extensive knowledge of European languages, Marija Gimbutas was employed by Harvard University in 1950. She was assigned the task of conducting research and writing texts regarding European prehistory. Gimbutas was able to read and translate the archaeological reports from Eastern Europe, which opened the American to new ideas on archeology. She remained at Harvard for thirteen years where she also became a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology. In 1955 Marija Gimbutas was made a Fellow of Harvard’s Peabody Museum. 1956 brought an International conference at Philadelphia, and it was here that Marija Gimbutas introduced her “ Kurgan Hypothesis ,” which combined archaeological study of the distinctive “Kurgan” burial mounds with linguistics to unravel some problems in the study of the Proto-Indo-Europeans ; namely, to account for their origin and to trace their migrations into Europe. The word “Kurgan” is a Russian word from Turkic describing the kind of graves and grave-barrows built by the people of this culture.

  5. Gabriele Meixner was an editor in the first presses of the German women’s movement (Amazonenverlag, Frauenoffensive) and has co-translated works by Monique Wittig (Le corps lesbien, Les Guerilleres, Lesbian Peoples) and Adrienne Rich (The Dream of a Common Language). For more than twenty years she has researched and published on the subject of prehistoric art interpretation from a lesbian-feminist perspective. She is known for her book Frauenpaare in kulturgeschichtlichen Zeugnissen (Female Couples: Historical Evidence) (1995) and the companion exhibition which was shown in more than thirty German cities. She also wrote a biography of prehistory scholar Marie E.P. Konig, Auf der Suche nach dem Anfang der Kultur (In Search of the Beginning of Culture) (1999). Currently she is writing a biography of Erika Wisselinck, the feminist publisher and activist who translated Mary Daly’s works into German.For an updated list of works published in TRIVIA, please see this author’s contributor page .

  6. Two early critics of the “Goddess” theory were Andrew Fleming and Peter Ucko . Ucko, in his 1968 monograph Anthropomorphic figurines of predynastic Egypt warned against unwarranted inferences about the meanings of statues. Ucko, for example, notes that early Egyptian figurines of women holding their breasts had been taken as ‘obviously’ significant of maternity or fertility, but the Pyramid Texts revealed that in Egypt this was the female sign of grief.

  7. I’m a little confused as to why advocates of “matriarchy” (quotes used because Marija Gimbutas herself, and others of her way of thought, do not use that term) equate private property and the exchange economy as “patriarchal domination.” I regard them as essentials for liberty, and communal ownership is a means of subjugation.

    That said, I have no problem believing that the Matriarchal/Matristic/Gynocentric/Goddess-worshipping era did actually exist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.