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Another contribution to the much-ballyhooed theory of matriarchal prehistory, by the late feminist pioneer Gimbutas (Archaeology/UCLA; Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, not reviewed). Gimbutas built a career around her controversial claims that before Indo-European warriors invaded around 4400 b.c., “Old Europeans” from Ireland to Italy enjoyed an agrarian, peaceful, goddess-worshiping existence. Their aesthetic standard was higher than that of other cultures of the period, with sophisticated architecture, complex linear language, and advanced farming techniques. Their religious rituals centered on birth and regeneration, with female reproductive images occupying prominent roles. Many archaeologists have criticized Gimbutas’s techniques and interpretations, noting that she reads more into the physical evidence than is supportable. Are all circles eggs, for example, and is every triangle a pubic image? At times, Gimbutas’s claims, which she reiterates in this volume, nearly completed before her death in 1994, border on the ridiculous, as when she argues that the bull—generally a symbol of patriarchal dominance—was really a woman-centered image for the Old Europeans because the bull’s head and horns resemble the female uterus and Fallopian tubes. The latter half of the book moves to a discussion of social structure, with Gimbutas maintaining that Old Europeans had much greater respect for women’s rights than their Indo-European successors. However, Gimbutas sometimes engages in a circuitous logic, claiming at once that women were socially respected because Old Europeans worshiped the goddess and that they worshiped the goddess because women were already regarded so highly. Also, Gimbutas conflates all Neolithic cultures into one “Old European” entity, missing the diversity of religion and practice among them. The book is well-written, and much credit must be given to editor Dexter (a lecturer in women’s studies at UCLA), for tying together Gimbutas’s last works in an eloquent manner. Full of intriguing possibilities, but Gimbutas’s work is too wedded to theory and ideology, rather than to archaeological evidence, to be ultimately persuasive. (130 b&w illustrations, 1 map)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-520-21393-9
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999


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