In the May/June 2020 issue of Archaeology magazine, the piece de resistance was a well-written in-depth article by journalist Megan Gannon entitled “Megasites of Ukraine” discussing “Massive 6000-year-old settlements (that) are revolutionizing how archaeologists understand ancient cities.” (Gannon, 33) Taking Mesopotamian Uruk as their model for early urban cities, the archaeologists interviewed appeared baffled to find that these ancient sites (earlier than Uruk) were apparently inhabited by farmers who “lived in these huge settlements (and) thrived without rulers, without monuments, and without wealth disparities.” One archaeologist said, “They’re probably egalitarian, but that sort of idea is really new to urban studies. Who ever heard of an urban center that’s not run by a strong hierarchy?” Well, actually, Marija Gimbutas did—in the 1980s—but her work was rejected by the archaeological establishment.
The problem is that Uruk wasn’t just an “ancient city,” but represents the rise of the State in the late 4th and early 3rd millennia BCE—the official establishment of Patriarchy. Like Egypt with its sudden patriarchal dynasties established around 3000 BCE, Uruk represents a radical departure from earlier long continuous development of human culture in the area of the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers. Suddenly for the first time and without any visible natural development, we see centralized government, a money economy, class stratification, slavery, human sacrifice, kingship, and war. The Goddess was dethroned and her priestesses demonized. Architecture and social organization were newly standardized, the environment was plundered, and people needing to escape migrated in all directions. So no, Old European megasites north of the Black Sea in the early 4th millennium didn’t look like the later male-dominated urban cultures, although within 500 years the people were defeated, abandoning their burnt sites in favor of migration away from the patriarchal invasions that brought the Danube Civilization to a close.
The sites investigated in this article—and excavated in digs “over a large swath of present-day Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania”—belong to the Cucuteni-Trypillia, a civilization thoroughly documented by Marija Gimbutas in her 1991 book, The Civilization of the Goddess. The article tells us what Gimbutas had already pioneered, that these sites were linked by peaceful and artistic cultural traditions. The article corroborates: “Little evidence of widespread violence or warfare has been discovered at the sites, suggesting people did not gather in such huge groups as a defensive strategy.” (34, my italics) Gimbutas always emphasized the intense female-centered ceremonialism and collective group ritual life of the Old Europeans. The researchers found “far less [environmental] impact than they expected,” (my italics) since other early urban centers with large populations tended to destroy the surrounding environment. Archeologists found “no evidence of social differentiation among households” and “no evidence of centralized administration,” suggesting that these people “managed to thrive without recognized leaders.” (36, my italics)
This is the crux of it: When women are the leaders of a place, it is common for researchers to perceive NO leadership, because they don’t see the male leadership they expect. Likewise, the archaeologists quoted in this article believe that the eventual abandonment of the megasites (and burning the houses to the ground) must have happened because the “group’s mode of self-government had broken down and that rulemaking was perhaps becoming less democratic as the population grew larger.” One of them asked, “How would they make decisions?” (37) Those of us in the International Matriarchal Studies movement know from our contact with self-described matriarchal cultures that they work from consensus; their decision-making is quite conscious and self-determined, and it keeps the peace. A more enlightened scholar interviewed insisted that, “We should focus on the fact that egalitarian decision-making was stable for several hundred years.” (37) No kidding, what contemporary western cultures have lasted so long???
*This article sprang from some of the work I am contributing to a collaborative book whose working title is Primordial Goddess; my two co-authors are longtime friends and colleagues, Miriam Robbins Dexter and Laura Amazzone. We are looking for the perfect publisher. The photo is a broad example of the cultures discussed in the article, but this particular find is not from Ukraine but from Romania (Cucuteni culture). The figurines were found in a vase and are considered to be ritual paraphernalia. I am taking the liberty to name them a “women’s council,” which of course we cannot know for certain so many thousands of years later.
Vicki Noble is a feminist writer, healer, and wisdom teacher, co-creator of the round feminist Motherpeace Tarot Cards and author of Motherpeace: A Way to the Goddess; Shakti Woman: Feeling Our Fire, Healing Our World, and The Double Goddess: Women Sharing Power. Her books are published in numerous languages. For decades she has traveled and taught internationally with a focus on women’s issues, female shamanism, and Goddess spirituality. She is active in the international Matriarchal Studies and Maternal Gift Economy movements. At home in Santa Cruz, California, she facilitates private intensive tutorials, adapting Tibetan Buddhist Dakini practices for her women students and Motherpeace certification master courses. She is the mother of two daughters, Robyn and Brooke, three grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and her son Aaron Eagle, who was the subject of her 1994 book, Down Is Up For Aaron Eagle.