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Marija Gimbutas

librarian said that this was normally the case, so works on this subject are definitely in demand now.

Marija: I never dreamed of that. I always thought that archaeology books are not generally read and that you just write for your own colleagues.

David: Were you surprised in yours and others’ excavations by the advanced designs of the habitats and the settlements of the Goddess religion?

Marija: Yes, I was. This was a revelation, to see that the later culture is much less advanced than the earlier one. The art is incomparably lower than what was before, and it was a civilization of 3,000 years, more or less, before it was destroyed. For thirty years now we’ve had the possibility to date items, using carbon dating. When I started to do my research, chronology was so unclear and we were working so hard to understand what period the object belonged to. Then in the 1960’s it became so much easier. I spent a lot of time doing chronology, which is very technical work.

That gave us a perspective on how long-lasting these cultures were, and you could see a beautiful development from the more simple to the really sophisticated, in the architecture and the building of temples. Some houses and temples were two stories high and had painted walls. Catal Huyuk was such a great discovery in Anatolia. The wall paintings there were only published in 1989, twenty-five years after Myler’s excavation. One hundred and forty wall paintings – and archeologists don’t believe him because it’s so sophisticated. And this is from the 7th millennium!

Rebecca: Do you think the matrifocal society could have sustained cities, or do you think that the nature of the religion and the lifestyle kept it small, usually no bigger than the average village?

Marija: It would have sustained cities. It did start to develop into an urban culture, especially in one area of the Cucuteni civilization which is presently Romania and the western part of the Ukraine. There we have cities of ten to fifteen thousand inhabitants in around 4,000 B.C. So urban development began, but it was truncated.

Rebecca: You have said that you think the meaning of prehistoric art and religion can be deciphered and that we need to analyze the evidence from the point of view of ideology. Do you think that we can honestly do this without being unduly biased by our own ideologies?

Marija: That’s always difficult. Most archaeologists have great difficulty in accepting that the life was so different. For instance, an excavator publishes a plan of a village. This is a circular village in a concentric circle of houses and in the center there is a house also. The explanation at once is, here is a chieftain’s house and around him is his retinue and then the last ring around is everyone else.

And then, when you analyze the material, it is totally the reverse. The large ring of houses were the most important houses, the largest houses with the best floors and so on, then growing into the inside the smaller houses are in the middle. So you can write anecdotes about the interpretation because we see only through the twentieth century prism.

David: What does your research indicate about the social status of women in the pre-Indo-European culture?

Marija: Women were equal beings, that is very clear, and perhaps more honored because they had more influence in the religious life. The temple was run by women.

Rebecca: What about the political life?

Marija: My findings suggest that the political life – of course, it’s all hypothesis, you cannot reconstruct easily, but we can judge from what remains in later times and what still exists in mythology, because this again reflects the social structure – was structured by the avuncular system. The rulers of the country; the queen which is also the high priestess and also her brother or uncle. The system is therefore called avuncular, which is from the word, uncle. The man, the brother or uncle, was very important in society, and probably men and women were quite equal. In mythology we encounter the sister-brother couples of female goddesses and male gods.

It is wrong to say that this is just a woman’s culture, that there was just a Goddess and there were no Gods. In art the male is less represented, that’s true, but that the male Gods existed, there’s no question. In all mythologies, for instance in Europe, Germanic or Celtic or Baltic, you will find the earth mother or earth Goddess and her male companion or counterpart next to her.

Also there are other couples like the Goddess of Nature, Regenerator, who appears in the Spring and gives life to all earth animals and humans and plants. She is Artemis in Greek mythology. She is called Mistress of Animals, and there are also male counterparts of the same kind called Master of Animals. His representations appear in Catal Huyuk in the 7th Millenium B.C. and they are there throughout prehistory, so we shouldn’t neglect that aspect. There is a balance between the sexes throughout, in religion and in life.

David: Is there any evidence that the takeover was violent and how much did the people try to defend themselves?

Marija: It was violent, but how much they defended themselves is difficult to tell. But they were losers. There was evidence of immigration and escape from these violent happenings and a lot of confusion, a lot of shifts of population. People started to flee to places like islands and forests and hilly areas. In the settlements you have evidence of murder.

Rebecca: What about the Kurgan, invading culture, were they always patriarchal, when did the patriarchy begin?

Marija: This is a very serious question which archaeologists cannot answer yet, but we can see that the patriarchy was already there around 5,000 B.C for sure and the horse was domesticated not later than that.

Rebecca: Do you think they came out of a previously matristic society?

Marija: It must have been so. But the trouble is that exactly there, in South Russia, where it is critical to know, we don’t have evidence. We have no extensive excavations in that area of before 5,000 B.C.

Rebecca: The `sacred script’ that you translated from the Goddess culture, did it ever develop, as far as you know, into sentences or phrases?

Marija: Again, that’s for the future to decide. It is possible that it was a syllabic script and it would have probably developed into something if it were not for the culture’s destruction. The script is lost in most of Europe and it is the eastern and central Europe where we have most signs preserved. In the Bronze Age, in Cyprus and in Crete, the script persisted which is much related to what it was earlier in the 5th Millennium B.C. Some is preserved but we do not have very clear links yet because of this culture change.

Scholars are looking into this question and I hope it will be deciphered somehow. The difficulty is that this pre-Indo-European language is studied very little. People study substrates of languages in Greece and Italy, but mostly what they can reconstruct are place names like Knossos which is a pre-Indo-European name. The word for apple, for instance, is pre-Indo-European and so linguists little by little, word by word, discover what words are not Indo-European. Names for seeds, for various trees, plants, for animals, they’re easily reconstructed. And also there exist several pre-Indo-European names for the same thing (like for the pig) and both are used; some languages use pre-Indo-European, some languages use Indo-European names, or both.

This is a field of research which should be further developed in the future and I think I am creating an influence in this area. It’s extremely important to have inter-disciplinary research. For a long time in the universities, there was department, department, department, and no connection between departments. Archaeology was especially so, with no connection to linguistic studies and no connection with mythology and folklore.

Rebecca: You’ve talked about the need for a field of archeo-mythology.

Marija: Yes. And when you don’t ignore the other disciplines, you start seeing many more things. That is such a revelation, to see in mythology really ancient elements that you can apply to archeology. To some archeologists this is not science, well, alright, let it not be science! It doesn’t matter what you call it. (laughter)

Rebecca: Many people used to believe that language started with men in the hunt, and now there’s more leaning towards the idea that it began in the home. When and how do you think language first developed?

Marija: Early, very early – lower Paleolithic. And it developed in the family. Some linguists are doing research in the earliest known words, and some formations show that certain words are very, very old and they exist all over the world.

David: You’ve collected a lot of European folk-tales. As creation myths are found in almost every culture in the world, have you found any that are relating to this theme?

Marija: Yes. Like, the water bird and the cosmic egg. The world starts with an egg and the water bird is bringing the egg, then the egg

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