Gimbutas, Marija (1921–1994)

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Gimbutas, Marija (1921–1994)

Lithuanian-born archaeologist and educator who shaped much of the field of pre-Indo-European archaeology (7000–3000 bce). Born Marija Alseika in Vilnius, Lithuania, on January 23, 1921; died of cancer in Los Angeles, California, in 1994; daughter of Daniel and Veronica (Janulaitis) Alseika; Vilnius University, M.A., 1942; Tubingen University in Germany, Ph.D. in archaeology, 1946; married Jurgis Gimbutas, in 1942; children: three daughters.

Selected works:

Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (1974); The Language of the Goddess (1989); The Civilization of the Goddess (1991); The Living Goddess (1999).

Born in 1921 and educated in Vilnius, Lithuania, Marija Gimbutas received a doctorate in archaeology from Tubingen University in Germany. In 1949, she immigrated to the United States where she undertook post-graduate work at Harvard University. Gimbutas joined the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1963 and served as professor of European archaeology until her retirement in 1990. During this time, she directed five major archaeological excavations in southeastern Europe and was the author of 20 books and more than 200 articles on European prehistory and folklore. She was also considered an authority on the Prehistoric incursions of Indo-European-speaking people into Europe and the ways in which they changed society there.

Most notable among her books are Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (1974), The Language of the Goddess (1989), and The Civilization of the Goddess (1991), the last being the most comprehensive of the three. Together, these works present an interpretation of the Neolithic period of Europe that challenges traditional views of prehistoric societies. Her most controversial thesis suggests that the world was at peace during the Stone Age, when goddesses were worshipped and societies were centered around women; this harmony was then shattered by patriarchal invaders and the subsequent worship of warlike gods. Through her studies and interdisciplinary approach, Gimbutas created a new field called archeomythology. Although skepticism about her thesis was widespread among scholars, it was embraced by many feminists and by the renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell.

Commenting on Gimbutas' book The Language of the Goddess, historian Gerda Lerner of the University of Wisconsin said that although her theory could never be proven it could "challenge, inspire and fascinate" simply by presenting an alternative to male-centered explanations. Gimbutas died of cancer in Los Angeles in 1994, age 73. Before her death, she had been working on The Living Goddess, a distillation of her life's work. Edited by Miriam Robbins , the book was published in 1999. "As in her previous work," noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "Gimbutas's aesthetic and spiritual sensitivity adds a depth unusual in archeological writing. This book is a major contribution to cultural history, especially the history of religion; clearly no one but Gimbutas could have produced this masterful contribution to the archeomythology of Europe."


The Day [New London]. February 4, 1994.

Publishers Weekly. March 15, 1999, p. 39.

suggested reading:

Gimbutas, Marija. The Living Goddess. Edited by Miriam Robbins. University of California, 1999.

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