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by Archaeology Newsroom

“Deceptive Appropriation of the Past” versus “Patriarchal Blindness”. Research into matriarchy and archaeology in Germany

In circles of the 1970s Women’s Movement the theory was created that Prehistory was a world -wide matriarchal age , a theory that served as a starting point for research into matriarchy. Female figurines of the European Palaeolithic and Neolithic period, which apparently document the existence of a religion of female deities and consequently of matriarchy, are referred to in the relevant bibliography as archaeological “evidence” in support of this opinion. In additon, the Neolithic settlement Catal Huyuk in Turkey and the Bronze Age palace of Knossos on Crete play a prominent role in this argument, which, however, does not meet the demands of a critical examination of sources and methods. In Germany the research into matriarchy, in which only the Americano-Lithuanian Protohistoric archaeologist Marija Gimbutas participated among all scholars of archaeology, becomes more and more popular. First political and later spiritualistic feminism percieved the matriarchal axiom. Its positions became meanwhile acceptable as “historic fact” in many circles thus becoming scientifically acceptable . In view of this development, it is about time that archaeology should participate in the issue of matriarchy. However, the relations of the two parties are tense. From the point of view of archaeology, the hypothesis for the existence of a Prehistoric matriarchy cannot be proven scientifically for reasons of methodology. From the point of view of the research into matriarchy, which partially presents clear characteristics, as opposed to rationalism and scholarship, the science considered as patriarchal is not the only way to knowledge. Even more, the so-called creative recollection of Prehistory and intuitive sensitivity about that period, are considered as ways towards a more integrated knowledge. Methodological and theoretical contrasts between the research into matriarchy and archaeology have a long history that goes back to the beginning of the scientific approach to the matriarchal notion in the 19th century. These contrasts occur between the supporters and the critics of the matriarchal notion and have repeatedly led to fierce controversies. This emotionally charged dispute has been further instigated by the fact that the notion of matriarchy seems to serve social purposes that run parallel to the development of society. While in 1861 Bachofen presented matriarchy as supportive of the patriarchal status quo in urban society, a little later this idea gained the character of a social utopia due to its being used as an argument for the socialist working movement.With the passage of time it was connected even closer with the criticism of patriarchy and, in the context of the political feminism of the 1970s it became a feminist fighting slogan. In context of contemporary spiritualistic feminism it gains more and more the characteristics of a Weltanschauung, of a religion of woman, which by its dedicated female supporters is considered as an opponent to the patriarchal ideology. According to many archaeologists, the research into matriarchy is not even historical , since it envelops the past in mysticism and ideologies, in order to serve the most diverse needs. In the eyes of the female supporters of matriarchy, archaeologists are prisoners to a patriarchal ideology, that characterizes their research and makes them either unable or unwilling to reach conclusions in favour of matriarchy through the research of archaeological sources. The chasm separating the research into matriarchy and archaeology runs very deep.The contrast of goals and methodologies are so strong, that any compromise seems impossible. Nevertheless, between the archaeological research into women and their sex and the research into matriarchy a common ground is revealed.The effort to marshal an alternative historiography, which takes in account the long denied need of women for their own history, along with the traditional, patriarchal recording of history. Within this context archaeological research could be inspired by the questions and versions of the matriarchal research, and the latter could in return benefit from the empirical data of archaeology. This form of contact and exchange of opinions is not a fantasy, but a reality.The conversation, through the Internet, of Ian Hodder, director of the new project for the settlement of Catal Huyuk in Turkey, and a female representative of the “Goddess Community”, concerning the location of the finds and its interpretation, proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt.