Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rejecting the Ur-Matriarchat


The base problem of the Ur-Matriarchat, based on the shared religion of the Great Goddess, is the paralogism of a petitio principii; rather than showing that all of the various tribes and locales of the Paleolithic to the demise of the Cretan culture ~1250 bc shared a common notion of the Great Goddess, it presupposes that shared notion.

This is also the main, though not the only way, in which the theory of the Ur-Matriarchat exposes its roots in the 18th and 19th century mode of historical, sociological and anthropological research. Other aspects are:
  • Its dependence on patriarchical accounts of the main data points, such as Bachofen and Engels for the idea of the matriarchy, or James Mellaart and Sir Arthur Evans for the excavation and interpretation of Çatalhöyük and Knossos.
  • Its dependence on simple process models of historical change, such as the conquest account of the matriarchical tribes through patriarchical Indo-Europeans.
  • Its focus on the Western part of Eurasia to the exclusion of all other parts of the world for telling a definitive story of civilization.
Core archaeological components of this story are limited to selected subsets of the evidence of
  • paleolithic female statuettes and French cave paintings
  • the Cretan palace of Knossos
  • the neolithic site of Çatalhöyük 
  • the paleolithic and neolithic sites excavated by Marija Gimbutas
which ignore the steadily increasing other forms of evidence--settlement sites for the paleolithic, other statuettes from paleolithic, non-Knossian sites from Crete--for the time period under question that do not readily point toward a Matriarchy of the forms described.
The evidence is especially problematic when looking at the physical anthropology for the interred at Çatalhöyük, which reveals the population to have been on the brink of starvation, severely undernourished and suffering from all forms of nutritional deficiencies--hardly a paradise in any sense of the word.

Ute C. Schmidt has labelled this type of assimilation of the present condition to the past while ignoring the historical evidence as "illusionäre Vergangenheitsaneignung" (illusionary appropriation of the past) [p.142] and warns against it, because it obscures the view for analyzing the actual problems, pinning women down with an immobile conception of a past paradise that is unfortunately lost.

Finally, the lack of reflection of the historiographical setup causes unintended consequences; for example, the Ur-Matriarchat hypothesis is unintentionally racist and anti-semitic: Since the duality is either patriarchy (bad) and matriarchy (good), and there is no argument for matriarchy in the South-East of Çatalhöyük, Israel and the majority of Asia, Africa and the Americas must by necessity be counted on the patriarchical side.


  • Meret Fehlmann, Die Rede vom Matriarchat, 2011.
  • Brigitte Röder, Juliane Hummel, Brigitte Kunz: Göttinnendämmerung, 1996 (München : Droemer Knaur), ISBN: 3-426-26887-6.
  • Ute C. Schmidt, Vom Rand zur Mitte: Aspekte einer feministischen Perspektive in der Geschichtswissenschaft, Zürich-Dortmund (edition ebersbach), 1994.

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