Enjoy this wise and intelligent
the oft-repeated errors of assumption about the work of Marija Gimbutas.
Here is the letter I've sent to
Scientific American in response to Ian
Hodder's article "Women and Men at Çatalhöyük" Scientific American
2004:76-81). I encourage you to write a response, as well.
All best wishes, Joan
In a recent article in Scientific American (January 2004), "Women and
Çatalhöyük," archaeologist Ian Hodder presents "fresh evidence of the
relative power of the sexes" in Anatolia 9000 years ago. Although his
research team examined every shred of evidence looking for differences
power or status between the sexes, they found a peaceful,
society in which sex was relatively unimportant in assigning social
for 1200 years. This is big news within a discipline that too often
sexual asymmetry and warfare to be a fact of life in human societies.
In Hodder's view, this new discovery presents a more complicated picture
than the "simplistic" scenario
presented by archaeologist Marija
who "forcefully argued for an early phase of matriarchal society" as
belief in a "mother goddess." Hodder defines matriarchy as "women were
leaders, descent was through the female line, and inheritance passed
mother to daughters." Although he states that cultural anthropology
provides no substantial claims for true matriarchies, matrilineal
are actually well known in anthropology. The rub comes with questions
female power and divinity.
Gimbutas repeatedly rejected the term matriarchy because it usually
rule by women as the mirror image of patriarchy. Decades ago she
the earliest farming cultures of Europe, as well as Çatalhöyük, as
egalitarian cultures in which the sexes were "more or less on equal
footing." Hodder's team is actually confirming Gimbutas' statement
of proving her wrong.
People who have seen row after row of female sculptures from Çatalhöyük
the archaeological museum in Ankara may be amazed by Hodder's statement
"much of the art is very masculine." Hodder uses as evidence the few
painted scenes of tiny males with enormous bulls, evidence of feasting,
bull heads mounted within shrines. When searching for the symbolic
significance of the plentiful bucrania, it's important to keep in mind
bulls are always more expendable than cows and would have been butchered
consumed more frequently. Hodder ignores the dozen or so sculptures
on walls with outspread legs and upraised arms found by James Mellaart
similar excavation levels. Some of these figures have clearly marked
breasts, are seemingly pregnant or poised above bucrania as though
birth to animal life. In Gimbutas' view, such female images functioned
visual metaphors expressing sacred concepts. Both she and James Mellaart
not hesitate to use the term "goddess."
I commend Ian Hodder for recognizing a link between the large clay
statuette of a seated, pregnant woman flanked by female leopards found
grain bin (p. 78) and the figurine with the seed in her body (p. 82).
sculptures illustrate an enduring association between grain and the
life-giving powers of women reflected in Neolithic art for thousands of
years. Hodder apparently rejects a sacred association, implied by
and Gimbutas' references to "goddess," in favor of a more secular
representation of "the symbolic importance of women" and "sympathetic
magic." It is interesting to note that clay tablets from Sumer, c.
BC, describe the goddess Inanna pouring forth grain from her womb.
Perhaps, as the excavations continue into the upper levels of
the sacred dimension rendered in female forms will be recognized as an
obvious feature of this balanced, egalitarian society.