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Books on Women in Prehistory

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The role of women and goddesses in prehistory is a subject of wide popular interest. Dahlberg's challenge of "man the hunter" as the primary catalyst for human civilization is now classic. Marija Gimbutas' theory of worship of goddesses in prehistoric culture of Old Europe, before the invasion of warlike Indo Europeans, is the foundation for much other literature. Read these and contrasting views.

1. Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, 6500-3500 BC: Myths & Cult Images

A beautifully-illustrated book about the images of goddesses and other feminine themes in Old Europe, as interpreted by Marija Gimbutas. People of prehistory did not leave us written records to judge their culture, so we have to interpret the drawings, sculptures and religious figures that survive. Is Gimbutas convincing in her theories about a woman-centered culture? Judge for yourself.
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2. The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory

Cynthia Eller, in this book first published in 2000, takes on the "evidence" for matriarchy and woman-centered prehistory, and finds it a myth. Her account of how the ideas came to be widely believed is itself an example of historical analysis. Eller maintains that the gender stereotyping and the "invented past" are not helpful to promoting a feminist future.
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3. Woman the Gatherer

Francis Dahlberg carefully analyzed evidence for the diets of prehistorical humans, and concluded that most of our ancestors' food was plant food, and meat was often scavenged. Why does this matter? It contradicts the traditional "man the hunter" as the primary provider, and woman the gatherer may have had a bigger role in support of early human life.
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4. Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years

Subtitled "Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times." Author Elizabeth Wayland Barber studied surviving samples of ancient cloth, reproduced the techniques used to make them, and argues that women's ancient role in making cloth and clothing made them crucial to the economic systems of their world.
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5. Engendering Archaeology: Women and Prehistory

Editors Joan M. Gero and Margaret W. Conkey have assembled anthropological and archeological studies of the male/female division of labor, worship of goddesses and other gender relations in an excellent example of applying feminist theory to fields often dominated by male perspectives.
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6. Reader in Gender Archaeology

Kelley Ann Hays-Gilpin and David S. Whitley have assembled articles in this 1998 volume to explore the issues in "gender archeology." Archeology requires conclusions for often-ambiguous evidence, and "gender archeology" explores the ways in which gender-based assumptions may influence those conclusions.
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7. Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines

Jeannine Davis-Kimball, Ph.D., writes of her work studying the archeology and anthropology of Eurasian nomads. Has she discovered the Amazons of ancient stories? Were these societies matrifocal and egalitarian? What about goddesses? She also tells of her life of an archeologist - she's been called a female Indiana Jones.
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8. When God Was a Woman

Drawing on the work of Gimbutas and feminist archeology, Merlin Stone has written of the lost past of woman-centered societies worshipping goddesses and honoring women, before the guns and power of the patriarchal Indo Europeans overwhelmed them. A very popular account of women's prehistory -- archeology with poetry, perhaps.
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9. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future

Many women and men, after reading Riane Eisler's 1988 book, find themselves inspired to recreate a lost equality between men and women and a peaceful future. Study groups have sprung up, goddess worship has been encouraged, and the book remains among the most read on this topic.
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10. The Hebrew Goddess

Raphael Patai's classic book on Biblical study and archeology has been expanded, still with the purpose of retrieving ancient and medieval goddesses and mythical women within Judaism. The Hebrew scriptures often mention worship of goddesses; later images of Lillith and Shekina have been part of Jewish practice.
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