Thursday, December 03, 2009



Two days ago, one of the biggest US newspapers ever – The New York Times –actually printed an article about that “little-known” Goddess culture, Old Europe!

And from what I understand, this article was plopped onto the front page of this Grandmama of all US newspapers!

According to the article, since Old European figurines, jewelry and other stuff are currently on display at New York University, Old Europe is now being “rescued from obscurity.”

‘Bout time, I say!

Of course the article is not without its flaws.

First, the author downplays the notion that women had power in Old Europe, or that the “ubiquitous” female figurines were – gasp! – goddesses (Oh no! Not scary goddesses!).

The explanation at the end of the article as to what these figurines “were” is a hoot. Don’t miss it! Apparently the author threw a bunch of words into a bag, shook hard, dumped the words, and then printed them out on paper.

The resulting paragraphs read like crow tracks rambling across a snow bank.

Second, a guy’s quoted saying the Old Europeans had a social hierarchy – you know, social classes, snooty snobs, and all that ick? Hafta give the author of the article credit, though. At least he clears his throat and voices a gigundo concern, namely this: if the Old Europeans had snooty snobs, why didn’t the snoots live in nicer houses than everyone else did?

Thing is, Old Europe *had* no “nicer” houses with “nicer” stuff in them. All the houses were equal, and plumped up with equally nice furniture, dishes, art, and so forth.

Well, enough of my rambling. Here for your reading pleasure, are a few snippets from the article, A Lost European Culture, Pulled From Obscurity, by John Noble Wilford, published November 30, 2009
Before the glory that was Greece and Rome, even before the first cities of Mesopotamia or temples along the Nile, there lived in the Lower Danube Valley and the Balkan foothills people who were ahead of their time in art, technology and long-distance trade.


Their graves held an impressive array of exquisite headdresses and necklaces and, in one cemetery, the earliest major assemblage of gold artifacts to be found anywhere in the world.


Until recent discoveries, the most intriguing artifacts [found from this culture] were the ubiquitous terracotta “goddess” figurines, originally interpreted [sic] as evidence of the spiritual and political power of women in society.


At its peak, around 4500 B.C., said David W. Anthony, the exhibition’s guest curator, “Old Europe was among the most sophisticated and technologically advanced places in the world” and was developing “many of the political, technological and ideological signs of civilization.”

A few towns of the Cucuteni people, a later and apparently robust culture in the north of Old Europe, grew to more than 800 acres, which archaeologists consider larger than any other known human settlements at the time.


The concentration of imported prestige objects in a distinct minority of graves suggest that institutionalized higher ranks did exist,” exhibition curators noted in a text panel accompanying the Varna gold.

Yet it is puzzling that the elite seemed not to indulge in private lives of excess. “The people who donned gold costumes for public events while they were alive,” Dr. Anthony wrote, “went home to fairly ordinary houses.”


An entire gallery is devoted to the [human and primarily female] figurines, the more familiar and provocative of the culture’s treasures. They have been found in virtually every Old Europe culture and in several contexts: in graves, house shrines and other possibly “religious spaces.”
Go HERE to read the entire article.
The pic above shows a Cucuteni goddess figurine. She dates from 4045-3800 BC.


Anonymous said...

I commented on Echidne's blog that this "take" on a goddess culture amounts to disinformation. By the way, your book is REALLY good, good-humored, and helpful.--Level Best

Athana said...

Hey, Level Best, thanks for the wonderful compliment re: *Switching to Goddess*! You are welcome here *anytime* sweetheart! Come back soon!!

Glad to hear you weighed in on the NYT article on Echidne's blog. Did she post on the article?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Echidne had a very cogent and wry post on this article. Her patience, like yours, with male-centric, woman-disregarding archaelogy has worn very thin!--Level Best

Thalia Took said...

Oh hey I commented over there too! :)

Reading your take on it it feels almost like since there's some kind of new mainstream interest in this Old European stuff, they powers that be have to bring it into line with what they 'know' about the way things work.

Kind of how like a narcissist will take no interest in you, until you happen to do something, then suddenly you have status that they can appropriate. Or something like that, anyway.

Athana said...

Thalia, exactly. It's what Christians did to Pagans: "if the people won't stop worshiping Pagans, then by god, we'll turn those pesky Pagans into Christian saints."

It's also very interesting that they chose David W. Anthony as the exhibition’s guest curator. Back in 1995 he wrote an article called "Nazi and Eco-feminist Prehistories," in which he compared Marija Gimbutas to the Nazis. Gimbutas was the archaeologist who first saw Old Europe as a distinct civilization. She also maintained that the people of Old Europe worshipped goddesses primarily and that the sexes were relatively equal. For this Anthony calls her a feminist who used archaeology for her own political purposes. (And Gimbutas never even claimed to be a feminist.)

Max Dashu said...

Glad to see your coverage of this. What I noticed immediately about this is that all the invited speakers were men, and not men who were open to interpreting the ceramic figurines as sacred, either.

The press articles foreground Varna (at the edge of the Balkan world in Black Sea Bulgaria) in order to extrapolate an elite class to all the varied cultures of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Romania, Hungary and even Bulgaria itself, where Varna was atypical.

Anthony himself is standing on Gimbutas' shoulders. He upholds the outlines of her analysis of Proto-Indo-European homeland in Ukraine, and of colonization waves from the east into the Balkan civilizations. But stripped of any perspective on sexual politics and certainly not religion. J.P. Mallory too.

And the male "Thinker" makes it to the front ranks yet again.

They really should have invited Joan Marler to speak. She worked with Gimbutas and is carrying her legacy. It's inexcusably doctrinaire to have excluded her, but that's academia for you. Pretend objectivity, hew to dogma.

Athana said...

Thanks for visiting, Max!

I hear you -- the entire article was skewed toward the status quo. And to select Anthony (who virtually called Gimbutas a Nazi) and exclude Marler in the exhibition, is so obviously snide as to be laughable.

On the up side, though, I see this as a small foothold, a small crack in the sickly status quo. Old Europe has made Her grand world debut, and I think sooner or later the facts will speak for themselves. OE was a land and time when equality ruled, peace was the norm, and the female side of things was spiritually paramount.

I suspect that future generations of scientists will look at this pathetic generation (of scientists) and shake their heads in disbelief.

AnnaPerenna said...

Unfortunately there is a live and thriving patriarchate in those areas of East Europe today (I know because I have escaped to an only mildly misogynic Western country).
There is of course another, very popular backlash in Europe right now: claiming all these mysterious "female" figurines were.. PORNOGRAPHIC. Yes, that they were the servile Playboy of their day, all these boobies and buttocks created solely to arouse males... Even the pregnant goddess images or the giving birth ones - makes perfect pornographic material, huh?
For the sexually harassing East European men it feels so freaking natural that their ancient counterparts would abuse women the same way they do today :( And unfortunately the Western European men still try hard to whitewash abusive prostitution and male-worshipping pornography, so this explanation is also right up their alley :(

AnnaPerenna said...

That aside, I LOVE those figurines and ceramics. It's such a marvelous beauty - and I get touched by the fact these ancient people created this with their own paws millenia ago but we can still appriciate it today. Like they're sending their hello across the ages to us.. *sniff*

Athana said...

One indication, AnnaPerenna, that the ancient figurines were indeed goddesses, is that when writing was invented, most ancient people tell us -- in writing -- that their figurines *do* represent goddesses.

AnnaPerenna said...

Well I have practically little to no doubts that all lady figurines must have been holy cult goddesses. The religion of ancient people was surrounding and embracing their entire life, so they probably didn't divide things in strictly secular and religious-just-for-holidays like we must today (to avoid all the skydude assholes). Our ancient peoples weren't only worshipping goddesses but also living and loving with them, every day, wherever they went - in their houses, in the forests, on their journeys, in their tents, in their graves etc. Even when they created the tiniest animals doll or figurine it must have meant they were probably adoring and worshipping it as a divine one, we don't understand this as we don't respect animals anymore at all. Especially if a figurine or sculpture was made out of stone, required a lot of skill or a valuable resource to create - wouldn't they make their most important symbols and images first?
Plus, the figurines that were created in same place are often very stylized and very alike - so they are probably more than just portraits of regular women.