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June 21, 1994

Obituary: Marija Gimbutas

by Feòrag

Dr. Marija Gimbutas, who died on Feb. 2, 1994 was born and grew up in Lithuania. Originally intending to become a doctor, she switched to archæology. She had already observed that many of the peasant customs in her native land were thinly-disguised paganism, and this set the tone for much of her career.

World War II interrupted her studies, so she spent much of it in the countryside with her husband, sheltering a group of Jews. After the war she made her way to Austria, then Germany, and continued to study in Tübingen,. She moved on to Harvard, where she met with a lot of sexism and was eventually granted a full professorship by the University of California at Los Angeles.

Her major contribution was her work on the origin of Indo-European languages and the way in which they spread.

For nearly 30 years, she argued that the 'Indo-European homeland' should be placed in the Pontic-Caspian steppe and identified the Proto-Indo-Europeans with her Kurgan tradition—a series of cultures occupying the steppe and forest steppe of the southern parts of modern Russia and the Ukraine around the 4th millenium bce. The name is taken from the form of barrow burial common to them.

She traced the movement of these people, or of their culture, by mapping changes in the mortury traditions of the surrounding people. In a society she identified as sexually egalitarian and peaceful, burials identical to the steppe burials begin to appear accompanied by symbols of male power, weapons and indications of the practice of suttee. The matrifocal status of the earlier society was evidenced by the numbers of female statuettes found. She also interpreted a number of pottery decorations as feminine symbols.

She proposed that the remnant of this society survived as the Minoans of Crete. One of her more famous interpretations was of the Minoan double axe, the Labys. Pointing out the exaggerated curve to the blade, she suggested it was actually a butterfly.

She was a prolific writer and as close as is possible to an archæological superstar whose work is of the highest relevance to the Neo-pagan community.

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Posted in Pagan Prattle: Summer 1994 at 16:24. Last modified on May 31 2007 at 10:10.
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