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by Archaeology Newsroom

Female deities and the social identity of women. A brief review of problems of interpretation

The female figurines of the Prehistoric period have been interpreted, according to a common theory, as representations of a Mother-Goddess, symbol of the fertility of nature and man, whose cult was extremely wide-spread. Due to their numerical superiority as compared to the male figurines that come down to us, they have been used as proof for the existence of a matriarchal system of social organization the well-known theory of “matriarchy”— although the connection of female deities with the social power, the authority and the evaluation of women in the specific era cannot concurrently be proved. Recent research, based on the various typological differences of the female figurines, has considerably altered the proposed interpretations for the indentification of their function, although it has restrained from assigning the production of the early figurines to a single reason of religious character. The projection of the female element in Prehistoric art does not simply allude to religious beliefs, but it also refers to social values connected with the participation of women in reproduction and rural production. The stressing of the fertility character of the female figurines, in combination with various other features, rather projects the “maternal” characteristics of the society in which a spirit of collectivity and a strong ritual dimension prevail. Women played a decisive role in this model of society. During the various phases of the Bronze Age and the Historic era the changes of the social structure, concerning reproduction and the organization of labour and politics, led to the gradual differentiation of women’s social identity. The ideals of the male-governed Greek society of the Historic period now show in personified goddesses in whom their previous origin of fertility symbol still shows.