Until recently, on most continents there were or there still are matriarchal societies which have been explored using anthropological-ethnological methods. Although many of them have been destroyed today, they had still been ethnologically recorded, which means there were eyewitnesses of how they used to live. This does not apply to West Asia and Europe, however, as the patriarchalization processes began very early in these areas, and the matriarchal cultures of earlier epochs collapsed under their pressure, so that even the original names of these cultures were lost. In archaeology they use to be known as “substrate.” Both female and male matriarchal researchers focus to discover the traces of matriarchal societies using various methods of cultural history. These methods are necessarily indirect and at the same time interdisciplinary. They not only combine the insights and interpretations of the archaeology of West Asia and Europe, but also research in the fields of mythology and religion, of oral tradition from local folklore, of landscape mythology, palaeo-linguistics and other disciplines. Instead of a complete list of all the sources related to research on matriarchal societies of the past, here we only refer to some exemplary works from these scientific disciplines.
The “Fertile Crescent”
Already in 1986, O. Bar-Yosef disagreed with the predominant perception of Neolithic walls as a “defensive system.” Ian Kuijt/Nigel Goring-Morris 2002 criticized, in principle, the conception that Neolithic way of life arose from competition and the formation of “elites.” In the informative anthology of 2007, Die ältesten Monumente der Menschheit (The oldest monuments of humanity), a rchaeologists presented the latest research on Neolithic sites in the so-called “Fertile Crescent,” such as Harald Hauptmann/Mehmet Özdoğan, Trevor Watkins, Olivier Aurenche, Harald Hauptmann/Klaus Schmidt, and many others, although the traditional perception remained in part. Klaus Schmidt 2007 provided a revised, less patriarchal interpretation of the monumental buildings of Göbekli Tepe. The egalitarian matriarchal epoch of West Asia in the various cultural regions of West Asia was presented by Heide Goettner-Abendroth in 2019, based on archaeological evidence (see Europe - Archaeology).
Bar-Yosef, O.: “The Walls of Jericho: An Alternative Interpretation,” in: Current Anthropology 27, No. 2, 1986.
By means of closer investigation, Bar-Yosef pointed out that the famous Walls of Jericho, which had been interpreted as “defenses” to protect the “profit” amassed by the “elite” were actually not a fortress, but served as flood protection. This undermines the belief that there were any “fortifications” for war purposes at all in Neolithic times.
Kuijt, Ian/Goring-Morris, Nigel. “Foraging, Farming, and Social Complexity in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic of the Southern Levant: A Review and Synthesis,” in: Journal of World Prehistory, Vol. 16, No. 4, December 2002.
The authors criticized the hypothesis that “social competition and rivalry” with the formation of “elites” had led to the emergence of the Neolithic way of life. In their opinion, the social cohesion of communities, established through cooperation, and the creation of religious buildings to consolidate a collective identity, was crucially important to these people.
Hauptmann, Harald/Özdoğan, Mehmet. “Die Neolithische Revolution in Anatolien,” and Watkins, Trevor: “Der Naturraum in Anatolien.” In: Die ältesten Monumente der Menschheit. Vor 12.000 Jahren in Anatolien. ed. Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe-Stuttgart: Konrad Theiss publisher, 2007.
In their articles, the authors looked at the initial development of agriculture and sedentarism in the area of the Levant (Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria), southeastern Turkey and western Iran, the so-called “Fertile Crescent.” The factors of climate, environment, and resources were considered, but the crucial contributions made by women were not addressed.
Aurenche, Olivier. Das “Goldene Dreieck.” In: Die ältesten Monumente der Menschheit. Vor 12.000 Jahren in Anatolien. ed. Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe-Stuttgart: Konrad Theiss publisher, 2007.
Aurenche presented the Neolithic of the “Fertile Crescent” based on specific sites and types of houses. Unlike the earlier conception of larger buildings being the “chieftain seats,” he interpreted them as community houses, although only used for men's ceremonies (“men's houses”).
Hauptmann, Harald/Schmidt, Klaus. “Anatolien vor 12.000 Jahren. Die Skulpturen des Frühneolithikums,” and Schmidt, Klaus: “Die Steinkreise und die Reliefs des Göbekli Tepe.” In: Die ältesten Monumente der Menschheit. Vor 12.000 Jahren in Anatolien. ed. Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe-Stuttgart: Konrad Theiss publisher, 2007.
In their articles, Hauptmann and Schmidt presented the monumental temples of Göbekli Tepe and comparable sites as examples of advanced civilization and interpreted the complex itself and the reliefs on the stone pillars. Initially, these buildings had been interpreted as an expression of the dominance of a male elite that created monumental memorials and worshiped a purely male cult. The authors revised this conception of patriarchal elites by interpreting the buildings as temples for the communities' ancestors.
James Mellaart 1967, 1975, who excavated Çatal Höyük, was the first to revise the image of the Neolithic era as “primitive.” He called Çatal Höyük an “urban culture,” whilst also paying attention to the prominent position of women. Ian Hodder 2004 investigated the social patterns in Çatal Höyük, pointing out the egalitarian way of life, but got entangled in contradictories. The female archaeologists Theya I. Molleson 2007, Jane Peterson 2010 and Diane Bolger 2010 got to the heart of the matter and demonstrated the gender equality in the Neolithic cultures of West Asia. Heide Goettner-Abendroth 2011 criticized Hodder's argumentation concerning Çatal Höyük and pointed out that the equality of a society referred to matriarchy.
Mellaart, James: Çatal Hüyük. A Neolithic Town in Anatolia, London: Thames & Hudson, 1967.
Archaeologist Mellaart excavated the Neolithic city of Çatal Höyük and, based on his finds, provided a completely different picture of the so-called “stone age” from his contemporaries. He concluded that the culture was clearly woman-centered and its development was at a much higher level than admitted previously. Rejecting the criterion of size as too superficial to define an urban culture, he also referred to the extensive division of labor and to trade, as well as to the highly developed craft industry, politics, and religion in Çatal Hüyük.
Mellaart, James. The Neolithic of the Near East. London: Thames & Hudson, 1975.
Widening his research area from Çatal Hüyük to the whole Middle East, Mellaart presented archaeological findings related to various cultures.
Hodder, Ian: “Women and Men at Çatalhöyük, ” in: Scientific American, January 2004.
Based on previous research, Hodder studied the social order in Çatal Höyük more closely, concluding that the same size of the houses as well as the same burial practices for both sexes indicated an egalitarian society. Contradicting himself, he also claimed that there were more pictures of men than women, thereby downplaying the importance of women and proving male dominance.
Molleson, Theya I. “Bones of Work at the Origins of Labour,” in: Hamilton/Whitehouse/Wright, ed.: Archaeology of Women: Ancient and Modern Issues, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast, 2007.
Based on the typical bone deformations of female skeletons, Molleson found that the tasks of gathering or growing grain and grinding grain were carried out by women and this remained the case for millennia, which indicates that women invented agriculture.
Peterson, Jane: “Domesticating Gender: Neolithic patterns from the southern Levant.” In: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Vol. 29, 1, September 2010, Elsevier.
From signs of wear on bones, Peterson deduced that women generally hoed the fields and milled the grain, as well as producing textiles and weaving. Men were generally engaged in heavy earthwork, such as clearing, digging and constructing. Despite this variety in areas of activity, Peterson was unable to find out that one area was worth less than the other, or that one gender bore the bulk of the work while being controlled by the other.
Bolger, Diane: “The Dynamics of Gender in Early Agricultural Societies of the Near East.” In: Signs, Vol. 32, No. 2, Winter 2010.
Using Domuztepe in southeastern Anatolia (6,500-5,500) as an example, Bolger suggested the burial practices attest to social equality until the late Neolithic / Copper Age in West Asia.
Goettner-Abendroth, Heide: “Gab es eine matriarchale Gesellschaftsordnung in Chatal Hüyük? Eine kritische Analyse der jüngsten Argumentation zu diesem Thema,” in: Goettner-Abendroth, Heide: Am Anfang die Mütter. Matriarchale Gesellschaft und Politik als Alternative, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer publisher, 2011.
In her essay (“Was There a Matriarchal Societal Order in Chatal Hüyük?”), the author criticized Hodder's ideological argument for Çatal Höyük, pointing out that both the general equality and gender equality noted by Hodder in this urban culture attest to a matriarchal society.
For a very long time, the archaeology of Mesopotamia focused on reconstructing vast ruins and lists of kings and dynasties, being caught up in the view that the first towns and civilizations arose here. This perspective was based on Gordon Childe's 1952 problematic definition of a city. It was only in the second half of the 20 th century that more attention was paid to earlier cultures in this area, briefly by Seton Lloyd 1978 and, in more detail, by Charles Keith Maisels 1999/2001. Hans J. Nissen 2012 not only included Mesopotamia, but the entire region within the dynamic development of advanced civilizations, although he could not free himself from the “elite” idea.
Childe, Gordon. “The Urban Revolution.” In: The Town Planning Review, 21, 1, 1950.
To define “city,” Childe not only used the criteria of size, specialized professions and technical skills, but also the concentration of profit, a ruling class and hierarchy, organized into a permanent state. However, the latter characterize patriarchally organized city-states, indicating that Childe had deduced his criteria from late Mesopotamia and improperly generalized this one-sided definition.
Lloyd, Seton: The Archaeology of Mesopotamia, London: Thames&Hudson, 1978.
Lloyd provided a comprehensive history of Mesopotamia, including the early civilizations, but mainly focusing on architecture and art.
Maisels, Charles Keith. Early Civilizations of the Old World. The formative histories of Egypt,
the Levant, Mesopotamia, India and China. London, New York: Routledge, 1999/2001.
In this extensive work, Maisels also described the early development of Mesopotamia, including its economic, ecological and social factors. He showed that civilization began here much earlier than the first hierarchical city-states.
Nissen, Hans J. Geschichte Alt-Vorderasiens. Munich: Oldenbourg Verlag, 2012.
In Geschichte Alt-Vorderasiens (“History of Ancient Near East Asia”), the author not only included the late advanced civilizations of Mesopotamia, but also early civilizations from the entire region. Nonetheless, he read “leading elites” into these pre-patriarchal civilizations with egalitarian characteristics, erroneously equating a greater division of labor and complexity with hierarchy.
Edwin O. James 1959/2003 presented the Indian, Persian, Egyptian, and European sources regarding the worship of Mother Goddesses, including the ancient religions of West Asia. Based on James, Miriam Robbins Dexter 1990 added the detailed study of sources regarding goddess religions, in 2009 focusing on the goddesses of Anatolia.
James, Edwin O.: The Cult of the Mother Goddess, London: Thames & Hudson, 1959.
In this prolific work, James gave a detailed review of sources regarding cults of Great Mother Goddesses in a wide range of cultures, extending from India through Persia and the Middle East to Egypt, the Mediterranean and Europe.
Dexter, Miriam Robbins. Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book. New York: Athene Series, Teachers College Press, 1990.
Dexter took up this focus on goddess religions and presented a vast collection of original sources, including the cultural areas of India, West Asia, the Mediterranean and Europe, thereby enhancing the field of investigation.
Dexter. Miriam Robbins. “Ancient Felines and the Great Goddess in Anatolia: Kubaba and Cybele.” In: Proceedings of the 20 th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, Los Angeles 2008, Published: Bremen 2009, Hempen publisher.
Dexter did not follow the repeated, controversial downgrading of the great goddess reliefs of Çatal Höyük, in which these figures are referred to as “animals.” Instead, she created a cultural-historical connection between the Neolithic female figurines with big cats and the later Great Goddesses of West Asia.
Gerda Lerner 1986/1991 focused on the situation of women in Babylon and Assyria and claimed to explain the creation of patriarchy in West Asia. Heide Goettner-Abendroth 2019 gave an explanation for the creation of patriarchy in Mesopotamia based on archaeological and ecological factors, diverging from the stereotype that the invention of artificial irrigation alone would have led to patriarchy in this cultural region (see Europe – Archaeology).
Lerner, Gerda: The Creation of Patriarchy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Lerner wrote an excellent study on the situation of women under patriarchal conditions in Babylon and Assyria, when those conditions were already established. Contrary to the book's title, however, she gave no explanation for the creation of patriarchy in West Asia (Mesopotamia).
The question whether Amazons actually existed has long time occupied research. Nonetheless, the answers given tended to be ideologically distorted. Only recently has the topic been seriously examined based on archaeological research. Back in 1975/1979 Pierre Samuel pointed out the difference between warrior women and Amazons. Jeannine Davis-Kimball 2002 was the first to draw on archaeological finds in the steppes, while Gerhard Poellauer 2002 used an interdisciplinary approach to reconstruct the history of Amazons in West Asia. Natalia Berseneva 2008 revised the understanding of gender roles in this regard, and Renate Rolle 2010 and Elena Fialko 2010 provided the latest archaeological findings on this subject. Adrienne Mayor 2014 contributed a rich collection of stories from the Eurasian steppes.
Samuel, Pierre. Amazonen, Kriegerinnen und Kraftfrauen, Munich: Trikont Verlag, 1979 (Originally published in French, Grenoble 1975).
In this book, (“Amazons, Warrior Women and Power Women”), Samuel explained the difference between warrior women, who fought together with men, and the Amazons as purely female societies, moving on to differentiate, from the Amazons, what he called “power women”, such as female athletes, competitive riders and others who are inappropriately called “Amazons” in modern language.
Davis-Kimball, Jeannine. Warrior women. An archaeologist's search for history's hidden heroines, New York 2002, Warner Books.
Davis-Kimball was the first to present grave finds of armed women in the Black Sea steppes. She correctly described them as “female warriors” and did not call them “Amazons,” because there was no evidence of purely female fighting units.
Poellauer, Gerhard. Die verlorene Geschichte der Amazonen, Klagenfurt: AT Verlag, 2002.
Also an unpublished manuscript by Gerhard Poellauer: Auf den Spuren der Amazonen, Klagenfurt, May 1994.
In these two works (“ The Lost History of the Amazons,” and “In the Footsteps of the Amazons”), Poellauer used an interdisciplinary approach, based on little-known archaeological excavations by Italian and Turkish archaeologists and his own archaeological observations, including historical written sources by the Greeks and other peoples. In this extremely interesting study, in which he clearly distinguishes “female warriors” from “Amazons,” he succeeded in reconstructing the history of the Amazons as women-only societies in the Eastern Mediterranean and Anatolia.
Berseneva, Natalia. “Women and Children in the Sagat Culture,” in: Linduff/Robinson, ed.: Are all Warriors Male? Gender Roles on the Eurasian Steppe, Lanham 2008, Altamora Press.
Berseneva criticized the long held view in archaeology that all graves with weapon finds were male graves, contrasting this with recent finds.
Rolle, Renate: “Tod und Begräbnis. Nekropolen und die bisher erkennbare Stellung von Frauen mit Waffen.”
Renate Rolle: “Bewaffnung und mögliche Kampfesweise skythischer Kriegerinnen.”
Both articles in: Exhibition catalogue: Amazonen. Geheimnisvolle Kriegerinnen, ed.: Historisches Museum der Pfalz, Speyer-Munich: Edition Minerva, 2010.
The German archaeologist Rolle showed in her articles on warior women how, through refined analysis of female skeletons, typical deformities from the constant use of weapons were revealed. She used this method to examine women's graves in the steppes to the north of the Black Sea. According to Rolle, the combination of female work tools, jewelry and cosmetic utensils along with weapons as burial objects is always considered a typical female warrior grave by archaeology today.
Fialko, Elena. “Skythische ‘Amazonen' in den Nordschwarzmeersteppen.” In: Ausstellungskatalog: Amazonen. Geheimnisvolle Kriegerinnen, ed.: Historisches Museum der Pfalz, Speyer-Munich: Edition Minerva, 2010.
Fialko, the Ukrainian colleague of Rolle, completed Rolle's research with statistical studies of the frequency of female warrior tombs, whose percentage is low, and the age of the female warriors when they died. Since both archaeologists limited themselves to the Black Sea area with a mixture of male and female graves, they were of the opinion that there had been no Amazons in the form of purely female societies.
Mayor, Adrienne. The Amazons. Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World, Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014.
Mayor's book is a rich collection of stories by Eurasian peoples about female warriors throughout the entire Eurasian steppe area from Ukraine to China. Nevertheless, the title of the book is misleading since, through literary sources, she presented the phenomenon of female warriors who lived in mixed societies and were therefore not Amazons.