Marija Gimbutas made an interesting statement in connection with her work (LA Times, June
Marija Gimbutas made an interesting statement in connection
with her work (LA Times, June 11, 1989). She complained about the
Kurgans and related cultures that:
Weapons, weapons, weapons! It's just incredible how many
thousands of pounds of these daggers and swords were found from the
Bronze Age. This was a cruel period and the beginning of what it is
today -- you turn on the television and it's war, war, war, whatever
She said there that she now cannot bear to look at her
monumental study of these people called "Bronze Age Cultures in
Central and Eastern Europe", simply because of all the loads of
weapons found. For her, her Kurgan/Indo-European work has been misery,
while the Old European work has been a deliverance; her status among
her colleagues has followed the opposite course, with her becoming one
of the world's most respected archeologists for her Kurgan work, and
declining with her Old European work. For example, one building
slightly larger than most of the others MG interprets as a temple. One
of her colleagues retorted that that building was no more a temple
than he is a monkey. MG would probably respond that that was based on
considering what was found inside.
MG claims that she lost some professional friends because of
her focus on early peoples' belief systems; many mainstream
archeologists seem to consider this sort of thing absolutely
inaccessible and an unscientific preoccupation. For her part, she
criticizes "economic archeology" by calling it a "tree stump with no
leaves". She also has the qualification of having been interested in
mythology and folklore from ever since she was a child; this
qualification she shares with Joseph Campbell, with his childhood
interest in Native American cultures. JC appreciated MG's work, and he
contributed an approving preface to MG's _The Language of the Goddess_.
She remains firm; she had survived worse things. She grew up
in Lithuania, the daughter of two doctors. When she went to college,
she had originally wanted to be a doctor, but decided on becoming an
archeologist. But disaster struck when the Soviet Union took over
Lithuania and sent many of her friends and relatives to Siberia. Not
too long afterward, the Nazis went in, and she hid her husband, who
was dodging the Nazi draft, and two Jewish women at a country home at
great personal risk for a year. When the Soviets returned in 1944, she
knew she had to flee. Carrying her 1-year-old baby daughter and her
master's dissertation on Lithuanian burial rites, she and her husband
fled to Vienna with the help of false papers.
After the war, she got her PhD at Tubingen, and came to this
country in 1949; MG soon got a research position at Harvard
University's Peabody Museum. She was poor much of the time; at
Harvard, she got jobs like pasting flowers on paper for the botany
department, crushing oranges in a factory, and even selling
encyclopedias. Only when she got a foundation grant in 1953 did her
need for a second job disappear.
She had been the only female archeologist at Harvard at the
time; she resented being barred from some university libraries and
dining halls just because of her sex, so when UCLA offered her a
teaching position in 1963, she accepted. A year later, she became a
full professor, and during the next 15 years, she led 5 excavations in
Europe. She has written 18 books and over 200 articles. She claims to
have a reading knowledge of about 20 to 25 languages, an obviously
useful skill in her work.
In that LA Times article, she did state something curious:
I communicate with the trees around me. This is part of my work.
Although this may be taken as proof that MG has totally gone
off her rocker, it is certainly no more absurd than the rituals of
many "reputable" religions.
My mother claims that this bit is "very Lithuanian." She
compared this comment to traditional Lithuanian poems about how the
leaves of aspen trees rustle even when there is no wind -- the trees
are communicating with each other.
I wonder if we may consider MG an honorary Druid, since the
Druids are the paleo-pagans that reverence for trees most quickly
brings to mind. However, reverence for trees is (or at least was)
probably very widespread; there is evidence from classical Greece and
from India, for example. Anyone have some favorite examples of tree cults?
Her comment may also reflect an effort to put herself in the
position of the people she studied, to try to find out why they
produced the art that they did. Thus, it would be like what an actor
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank