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Review of Archeology: The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe. Marija Gimbutas (Joan Marler, ed.)

Review: [untitled]
Author(s): Ruth Tringham
American Anthropologist,
New Series, Vol. 95, No. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 196-197
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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ual. According to Joyce, shared ideological
and cosmological beliefs and common ritual
practices were the principal mechanisms by
which social cohesion was created and sus-
tained in a Maya community such as Cerro
Palenque. Joyce characterizes the settlement
that she investigated as a series of hierarchi-
cally organized, centralized units. Ritual ac-
tivities are suggested by the presence of caches
and benches in household structures, by the
location of several public plazas with cere-
monial architecture near residential clusters,
and by the construction of a single large plaza
with a ball court central to the entire site. The
distribution of these features leads Joyce to
propose that ritual activities were conducted
in ever more inclusive groups, which she iden-
tifies as the individual household, the house-
hold cluster, the hamlet, and the full commu-
Joyce's reconstruction of cultural dynamics
also emphasizes the importance of trade. Ac-
cording to Joyce, inter-elite exchange was re-
sponsible for the transformation of the polity
at Cerro Palenque during the Terminal Clas-
sic period. During the Late Classic period, ex-
otic goods reached Cerro Palenque through
the Bay of Honduras from many sites in the
Maya lowlands. These sites competed with
each other to establish trading partnerships
with the elites of smaller centers, such as Cerro
Palenque. During the Terminal Classic period
exotic goods reached Cerro Palenque from
sites. Centralized polities, such as Seibal
and Altar de Sacrificios, established monopo-
listic trade patterns.Joyce traces the impact of
this trade shift upon Cerro Palenque in two
ways. She notes that the population increased
at Cerro Palenque while it decreased at
nearby sites and, simultaneously, that the rel-
ative quantity of exotic goods at Cerro Pal-
enque declined. She argues that its sudden
emergence as the terminus for the tightly con-
trolled trade networks of the Terminal Classic
period catapulted Cerro Palenque into a dom-
inant position in the Ulua Valley. At the same
time, its dependence upon a limited number of
much more powerful trade partners eventu-
ally drained Cerro Palenque of its wealth.
Joyce's goal is to present her archeological
data on Cerro Palenque as an example of"ar-
chaeography," that is, of an ethnographic ex-
plication of culture based upon material pat-
terns. To achieve this, Joyce draws heavily
upon ethnographic analogs with modern
Maya and Mexican communities. Her use of
ethnographic evidence to interpret archeolog-
ical data is amply
justified, especially since re-
cent studies by Dennis and Barbara Tedlock,
Linda Schele, and others document cultural
continuity on the level of ideological belief and
ritual practice. At the same time, Erwin Pan-
ofsky and George Kubler have demonstrated
that architectural forms, artistic motifs, and
material shapes have been shown to survive
intact even when their meanings undergo rad-
ical alterations. It would have been useful for
the author to indicate potential areas in which
disjunctions may have interrupted the conti-
nuity of Maya culture. Nonetheless, Joyce has
succeeded admirably in presenting a balanced
interpretation of a Maya archeological site.
She interprets Cerro Palenque as a commu-
nity that combined the religious impetus of the
Maya beliefs with the economic and social im-
peratives of Maya polities.
The Civilization of the Goddess: The
World of Old Europe. Marija
ed.). San Francisco, CA: Harper Col-
lins, 1991. 542 pp.
of California,
of the Goddess
comprises a synthe-
sis of European prehistory from Early Neo-
lithic to Early Bronze Age (6,500-3,000 B.C.).
There have been other such syntheses in re-
cent years. Gimbutas's volume, however, is
quite extraordinary
for the attractiveness of its
coffee-table look and for its utilization of ar-
cheology to provide a definite message for the
The message concerns the existence in Eu-
rope of what the author describes as "the Civ-
ilization of Old Europe." This was a "true civ-
ilization in the best sense of the word" (p. viii),
based on peaceful equalitarian coexistence,
belief in a primordial deity (the Mother-God-
dess), and a "matristic, matrilineal ... social
order" (p. x), until its demise at the hands of
the patristic, hierarchical, war-loving Indo-
Europeans. Gimbutas's book recounts the de-
velopment and world of Old Europe as a uto-
pia that should be emulated in the future.
The first six chapters of the book describe in
conventional form the archeological data of
Neolithic Europe from
which this construction
of Old European civilization has been drawn.
Details of chronology and sites are given as ap-
pendixes. The next three chapters focus on the
figurines, two-dimensional designs, architec-
ture, and so on that provide the basis for the
(re)construction of religion-its symbolic
expression and social structure. The final
chapter is devoted to describing the Steppe
pastoralists of southern Russia-the invading
Indo-European speakers who, Gimbutas be-
lieves, caused the "end" of Old Europe.
Gimbutas is known for her invaluable
syntheses of Eastern European prehistory,
and Civilization
is no exception. Increasingly,
however, her research has advocated the cor-
rectness of her
interpretation of the archeolog-
ical data and her
prehistoric scenarios. Civili-
is the culmination of this proselytizing
trend and of her research, expanding her ac-
customed focus to include Paleolithic and
Western European prehistory.
Because she brings women into focus in her
prehistoric scenarios, and because of her im-
portance as an authoritative source of arche-
ological "facts" in the modern revival move-
ment of Goddess worship and in feminist cri-
tiques of religious history, criticism of Gim-
butas's work has often been regarded as
antifeminist and anti-Goddess. As an arche-
ologist interested in a feminist interpretation
of archeological data, however, I find Gim-
butas's construction of European prehistory
deeply unsettling, perhaps because it repre-
sents a contradiction to all that feminist re-
search could
do for European prehistory.
Gimbutas has painted a picture of massive
change in European history, from matrifocal
to patrifocal society, in which the variability
and individuality of men's and women's his-
tories, which are of interest to feminists and
postprocessualists alike, are lost in a norma-
tized prehistory. She has added women, but
her traditional, advocative epistemological
framework remains unchanged.
In page after page she attempts to convince
us of her interpretations of figurines as repre-
sentatives of particular manifestations of the
Goddess (p. 242), of buildings as shrines and
temples (p. 326), and of carvings as snakes
and vulvas (p. 304), as well as that traditional
archeologists are mistaken or narrow-minded
(p. 338) and that the evidence exists unequiv-
ocally to support her
interpretation. Alterna-
tive interpretations
are denied any validity, or
are often not considered at all. Feminist arche-
ological research is based on a celebration of
the ambiguity of the archeological record and
a plurality of its interpretation, and the sub-
jectivity of the prehistories that are con-
structed is a part of its discourse. Gimbutas,
however, has mystified the process of interpre-
tation and has presented her own conclusions
as objective fact.
If you are happy-as many as Gimbutas's
readers seemingly are-to accept uncritically
her interpretations, then this book must be an
invaluable bible that reveals the past as it was.
As a research source, however, the critical
reader must be prepared to wade through a
morass of unqualified interpretations and
value-laden statements to reach usable data.
Cuello: An Early Maya Community in Be-
lize. Norman
ed. New York: Cam-
bridge University Press, 1991. 282 pp.
From very near the outset of its 1975-87 ex-
cavation by a multifaceted Hammond-di-
rected team, Cuello has been the focus of a
great deal of attention both within and beyond
the borders of the Mayanist world. The atten-
tion has centered almost exclusively on one is-
sue: the age and developmental significance of
the earliest complex identified at the site-the
Swasey Phase. To Hammond's credit, the
convoluted and often contentious history of
this issue is set forth in detail both early in the
volume and in a later chapter on stratigraphy
and chronology written by Hammond, Ju-
liette Gerhardt, and Sara Donaghey. Put sim-
ply, what once seemed to be a matter of time
now seems a matter of place; Swasey appears
to owe more to the locale of its development
than to great chronological precedence. Al-
though the Swasey thread quite understand-
ably runs through the fabric of this inventively
organized volume, it is fitting that the issue is
now merged into an intensive and extensive
disquisition on the Maya Preclassic as exem-
plified by a comparatively small town.
Perhaps because of a hope for a readership
beyond the realm of Maya studies, the book
begins with a capsule summary of Maya civi-
lization. Although the section could be said to
support background
discussions that follow, it
makes a rather strange bedfellow with some of
the highly detailed technical studies that make
up the body of the volume. The editor's hand
seems to have been highly effective throughout
the book, for despite the variety of specialized
subjects the individual chapters complement
one another very well. The cohesion is proba-
bly aided by the focus on a single period of an-
cient Maya life.
The volume's focus may also assist in the
very useful organization of the data into chap-
ters on the community's ecology and economy
(Miksicek), its ceremonial core (Gerhardt and
Hammond), the patterns of its household and
settlement change (Wilk and Wilhite), its
population (Saul and Saul), craft technology
and production (by a variety of authors), ex-
ternal contacts and trade (various authors),
and ritual and ideology (Robin and Ham-
Marija Gimbutas (Gimbutienė) is a renowned archaeologist who specialised in European prehistory. This paper explores her life and work, including her personal biography, showing how her upbringing in Lithuania shaped her academic interests and orientations. This paper also reviews her professional achievements and contributions via the lenses of seven aspects of her academic life, namely her time in higher education, her work on Lithuanian folklore and symbolism, her explorations of Old Europe during the Neolithic, her Kurgan Hypothesis and engagement with Baltic studies, her excavations in southeast Europe, her work on the Goddess, and her symbolism work. It also examines academic and popular reactions to her writing and her influence on scholars and public discourse. Keywords: Gimbutas, Neolithic, history of archaeology, Goddess, figurines.
Full-text available
For a century a notion of a prehistoric Mother Goddess has infused some perceptions of ancient Europe, whatever the realities of developing archaeological knowledge. With the reverent respect now being given to Marija Gimbutas, and her special vision of a perfect matriarchy in Old Europe, a daughter-goddess is now being made, bearer of a holy spirit in our own time, to be set alongside the wise mother of old.
Temporal Orientalism provides a tool for analyzing the advertising of a genre of mass-marketed paperbacks, which is the literature of a women's religious social movement. Through it, the Goddess movement advertises its message as liberatory feminist revelation, with historical claims proved by archaeology. Cover copy advertises what the author calls the lost Eden scenario, in which an imagined savage male Other despoils an imagined ancient matriarchy. The identity of this villainous male Other is withheld in the advertising, but revealed, “who-dunit” style, in the books: it is a racial identity. Hence, the advertising, like the books, reflects in its monotheism, its reliance on authority, its blame of an Orientalized Other, and so on, a Goddess religion that in many ways mirrors characteristics the authors describe as patriarchal when they criticize other religions.
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This paper is concerned with the importance of archaeological records in prehistorical times for the built environment. It is suggested that previous writings on this period have been dehumanising, uncreative and arid. The author argues that a focus on space, place and gender can illustrate many of the complexities and issues facing not only that particular period but also archaeology itself. The remainder of the paper is divided into two major sections: first, a detailed critique of the methodologies and philosophies of archaeology is offered. Second, using case studies from the former Yugoslav region the author illustrates how gender was an important element in the shaping of built environments. -K.Dodds
Full-text available
Research on Gravettian textiles and basketry informs our understanding of Upper Paleolithic ideology and yields new insights on one component of Stone Age material culture—the “Venus” figurines. Detailed studies of a series of figurines indicate the presence of at least three types of dressed female depictions. These include several types of headgear, various body bandeaux, and at least one type of skirt. Using data from Europe, we argue that the garments portrayed were made of plant fibers and that their exquisite detailing reflects the important role played by textiles in Upper Paleolithic cultures. The iconography also associates these technologies with women as well as with power, prestige, and value.
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