Marija Gimbutas: Chronicler of the Goddess

Marija Gimbutas

Marija Gimbutas

January 23, 1921 – February 2, 1994


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.

As a professor of archaeology at UCLA from 1963 to 1989, Gimbutas directed major excavations of Neolithic sites in southeastern Europe between 1967 and 1980, including Sitagroi and Achilleion in Thessaly (Greece). Digging through layers of earth representing a period of time before contemporary estimates for Neolithic habitation in Europe; and where other male archaeologists would not have expected further finds, she discovered something no archaeological theory accounted for at the time: thousands of female figures in art and pottery, and no evidence of warfare prior to Indo-European influence. The Neolithic period became her specialty, passion and the subject of her research writing for the remainder of her life.

Some classical archaeologists gave Gimbutas’ research and publications, an unenthusiastic reception, stating her work was based on conjecture. Perhaps, these male colleagues conveniently forgot that all archaeology is based on hypotheses and supposition. Ingrained prejudice amongst male academics apparently made it difficult to reflect upon a more balanced His-Story that revealed a world that was not always ruled by men.

Marija Gimbutas at Newgrange, Meath, Ireland Photograph by Michael Everson

Marija Gimbutas’ influence has been wide reaching. Joseph Campbell, noted writer and historian, and anthropologist, Ashley Montagu each compared the importance of Marija Gimbutas’ output to the historical importance of the Rosetta Stone in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs.[2] Campbell provided a foreword to a new edition of Gimbutas’ The Language of the Goddess (1989). During the last few years of his life, Joseph Campbell often spoke of Gimbutas, profoundly regretting that her research on the Neolithic cultures of Europe was not available when he was writing The Masks of God; otherwise, he would have “revised everything.”

Marija Gimbutas’ research became a keystone of scholarly, matriarchal studies and foundational to a reawakened Goddess movement. Her book, The Civilization of the Goddess,(Harper, 1991) chronicled Shamanic practices that survived a thousand year taboo in Britain, France and the rest of Western Europe. Gimbutas research indicated that Wicca traditions had survived from Lithuania miraculously revealing a continuum from the ancient times of the Divine Feminine.  Up until the twentieth century, villagers under the guidance of their wise women, honored the old ways: healing rituals; midwifery practices; recognition of the moon menstrual link; sexual mysteries; and the celebration of seasonal folk festivals marking the points of power in the old calendar. The continued recognition of these ancient cross quarter holy days is particularly relevant to the Divine Feminine. These were fire celebrations that were symbolic of the female sexual fire, sometimes referred to as kundalini.  In the time of the Goddess, her people understood that sexuality was healthy, that the blissful joining of a man and a woman was blessed with the energy of the Goddess who granted her people good health and fertile fields.

At the time of her death in 1994, Marija Gimbutas, had published over 300 articles, 33 books. The three books detailing her pioneering research into these ancient matriarchal cultures, and highly recommended to anyone seeking information on this important research, are:

The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, 7000-3500 B.C  (1974);

The Language of the Goddess (1989), which inspired an exhibition in Wiesbaden, 1993/94;

The Civilization of the Goddess (1991) presented an overview of her speculations about Neolithic cultures across Europe: housing patterns, social structure, art, religion, and the nature of literacy. This work articulated what Gimbutas saw as the differences between the Old European system, which she considered goddess-and woman-centered (“matristic”), and the Bronze Age Indo-European patriarchal (“androcratic”) culture which supplanted it. According to her interpretations, gynocentric and gylanic societies were peaceful, they honored homosexuals, and they espoused economic equality. The “androcratic”, or male-dominated, Kurgan peoples, on the other hand, invaded Europe and imposed upon its natives the hierarchical rule of male warriors.


[1] Gimbutas received a doctorate in archaeology, with minors in ethnology and history of religion, from Tübingen University. After arriving in the United States, Gimbutas immediately went to work at Harvard University translating Eastern European archaeological texts. She then became a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology. In 1955 she was made a Fellow of Harvard’s Peabody Museum.  As a professor of archaeology at UCLA from 1963 to 1989, Gimbutas directed major excavations of Neolithic sites in southeastern Europe between 1967 and 1980, including Anzabegovo, near Štip, Republic of Macedonia and Sitagroi and Achilleion in Thessaly (Greece). Source:  

[2] “According to anthropologist Ashley Montagu, Marija Gimbutas has given us a veritable Rosetta Stone of the greatest heuristic value for future work in the hermeneutics of archaeology and anthropology.” — Peter Steinfels (1990) Idyllic Theory Of Goddesses Creates Storm. NY Times, February 13, 1990



Author: H. Sandra Chevalier-Batik

I started the Inconvenient Woman Blog in 2007, and am the product of a long line of inconvenient women. The matriarchal line is French-Canadian, Roman Catholic, with a very feisty Irish great-grandmother thrown in for sheer bloody mindedness. I am a research analyst and author who has made her living studying technical data, and developing articles, training materials, books and web content. Tracking through statistical data, and oblique cross-references to find the relevant connections that identifies a problem, or explains a path of action, is my passion. I love clearly delineating the magic questions of knowledge: Who, What, Why, When, Where and for How Much, Paid to Whom. My life lessons: listen carefully, question with boldness, and personally verify the answers. I look at America through the appreciative eyes of an immigrant, and an amateur historian; the popular and political culture is a ceaseless fascination. I have no impressive initials after my name. I’m merely an observer and a chronicler, an inconvenient woman who asks questions, and sometimes encourages others to look at things differently.