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Approaches to the Study of Goddess Myths and Images

By Patricia Monaghan

Goddess Studies is not a new field. For more than a hundred and fifty years, pioneering women have examined the role that religious imagery has on people, both men and women. They have taken variant approaches, from imagining a different world to critiquing the limited religious visions offered by monotheistic religions. This 4-part series describes the lives of these pioneers, as well as the approaches to goddess studies to which they gave rise. The series is excerpted from “The Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines” (Praeger 2010).

Marija Gimbutas: Interpreting ancient language

Born in Vilnius, Lithuania, on January 23, 1921, Marija Alseikait lived through the turmoil of World War II, managing to gain an education and to marry a young architect, Jurgis Gimbutas, before the couple fled to Germany after Soviet occupation of their homeland. There, in 1946, Gimbutas earned a Ph.D. in archaeology at Tübingen University and not long after, accepted an appointment to Harvard’s Peabody Museum. During this time, she began to unravel the archaeology of her homeland, developing the “Kurgan hypothesis” that argues that the distinctive burial mounds (“Kurgans”) found in eastern Europe were the artifacts of an invading proto-Indo-European (PIE) culture. To arrive at this hypothesis, Gimbutas used the tools of several disciplines, including linguistics, archaeology and comparative religions. This interdisciplinary approach was a hallmark of her work throughout her life.

Gimbutas did not start her career searching for an ancient goddess; the facts led her to that conclusion. Those facts were gathered through many years of archaeological research, especially that from 1963-1989 when, as a faculty member at UCLA, Gimbutas directed digs at Neolithic sites in southeastern Europe. The resulting finds encouraged her to refine her ideas about pre-Indo-European culture, which she called “Old Europe.” She wrote the definitive work on prehistoric eastern European culture in Bronze Age Cultures of Central and Eastern Europe; the book’s careful discussion of artifacts established her as one of the field’s most important theorists.

Read the original article at: Seasonal Salon

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