Why had I never heard of the Vinča culture centred in Serbia and its developing writing system that predated Cuneiform by 2000 years?
Could it have been the world’s reaction to the war crimes of Slobodan Milosović?
It was because the civilization of Old Europe, of which Vinča was an important part, was briefly made famous by the Lithuanian/American archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. Today her work is not included in standard textbooks. It has been all but forgotten. This post investigates why, in the process, uncovering a nasty example of competitive academia. I adore prehistory and, to be blunt, academics in their ivory towers don’t understand that it’s people like me their actions are actually affecting.
The Minoans of Crete in their beautiful palace at Knossos were the last remnants of the civilization of Old Europe. They are mentioned in every textbook as an independent entity that somehow brilliantly developed all by itself, aside from quiet references to Anatolia and loud ones to the role Crete played in Classical Greek civilization.
Let me assure you that nothing appears in history without prequels.
I read about Vinča in Europe Before Rome by T. Douglas Price (1). Included in Price’s book are three sub-chapters on Serbia: Vinča, Lepinski Vir and Rudna Glavna, the earliest centre of copper smelting. Old Europe, of which Vinča was a part, was an indigenous culture having a more female-focussed religion directed towards regeneration and, from the evidence of burials and art, lacking a male warrior class. It was eventually supplanted by the war-like Indo-Europeans who migrated west from the area around Ukraine after 4400 BC. A lot of emphasis on male heroes and glorious wars here. Just read the Iliad or the Bible.
Like modern Europe, Old Europe had extensive trade routes, significant communities, cultural and religious practices, and methods of communication, that is, symbols developing into phonetics that were related to the undeciphered Minoan script known as Linear A.
Let us consider why it has been demoted to the domain of unsound minds.
1. Marija Gimbutas challenged the status quo with her new ideas. Her contemporary, the historian Moses Finley, considered the notion (which Marija declared) of the pre-eminence of the female goddess in Old Europe a ‘remarkable fable’ and ‘unequivocally attack[ed] the notion of female dominance in prehistory’. AKA any history (2).
2. Marija Gimbutas lacked ‘a politically powerful position in the academic infrastructure of the field of archaeology’ (3).
3. In the 1990’s, a Spanish-style Inquisition was launched against Marija Gimbutas and her published works by a prominent British male archaeologist who appears to have been motivated by jealousy.
4. Similar personal attacks of a misogynistic nature by British and North American archaeologists followed.
5. Marija’s use of the word ‘goddess’ in her literature was reviled as pandering to modern feminism and new age pagan ideas, particularly by those desiring to support the academic hierarchy.
6. Aspects of her work were deliberately misrepresented with a view to vilification.
7. Marija’s insistence that the nature-based religion of Old Europe couldn’t be separated from its archaeology upset the prevailing academic mood. She wrote, ‘Previous books on Neolithic Europe have focused on habitat, tool kits, pottery, trade and environmental problems, treating religion as “irrelevant”…By ignoring the religious aspects of Neolithic life, we neglect the totality of culture’ (4). Compare the similar situation here in Sydney with SBS TV. They’ll celebrate everything else about a culture except its spirituality, the very thing that was essential to its development.
Marija was a superb linguist who read thirteen languages. This gave her access to a wide variety of archaeological site reports, most of which have still not been translated, and it’s important to remember that the Vinča site was initially excavated by a Serb, Miloje Vasić.
Marija passed away in 1994 aged 73. It’s hard to understand how academia could have been so cruel to an elderly woman dying of cancer, one who was reported to have been kind and gracious. But, as my mother used to say, ‘remember Dr Semmelweis’, the doctor who was persecuted by his peers for wanting medical staff to wash their hands between the dissecting room and the maternity ward.
But wait! I open my People of the Stone Age (5)and what do I find? Images of Old European Religion by Marija Gimbutas.
It was published in Australia, of course.
1. Europe Before Rome by T. Douglas Price (Ref 1) (Oxford University Press, 2013).
2. Goddesses, whores, wives, and slaves’ by Sarah B. Pomeroy (Shocken Books NY 1975
3. Charlene Spretnak in 2011 ‘Anatomy of a Backlash’. Spretnak-Journal-7.pdf (archaeomythology.org)
4. The Civilization of the Goddess Marija Gimbutas, Harper Collins 1991.
5. People of the Stone Age, (University of Queensland Press, 1993)