Recorded history began in 3100 BC when the Sumerians invented the first written language. What followed that date is part of the historical record. Everything that preceded 3100 BC is prehistory. Nothing is known before that date from written records except what is referred to in the writings of later authors. The prehistorical record includes all of women's unwritten history from 30,000 BC to the time that men began achieving political power. Although there are no written records, archeologists have been able to piece together a comprehensive knowledge of the prehistorical record, that goes back as far as 33,000 BC or the beginning of the Aurignacian period.

If you have ever asked, why study ancient history, the answer is simply, to find out who you are.It's especially important for women to ask this question. Only when women search their historical origins will they be able to understand their past heritage as something more than, as Merlin Stone put it, "a broken fragment of male culture". It's necessary to study the past if women are not to remain dependent on the "interests, interpretations, translations, opinions, pronouncements" that have been used by men in the past to define women's place in society.

Many people are of the opinion that civilization began with the arrival of the Greeks on the world stage. The truth is that complex societies had flourished at least 25 centuries before the time of the Greeks.

Archeological evidence now confirms that , medicine, agriculture, architecture, metallurgy, ceramics, textiles, literature, poetry, arts, astronomy, were all skills invented by societies that preceded the Greeks.

More important, the earliest of these societies worshipped, not a male God, but a female Goddess. We are not talking about a mythical Atlantean culture but real people who left behind real bones and burial artifacts as evidence of their physical and cultural presence.

. Late Paleolithic Era 40,000-10,000 BC

AURIGNACIAN (30,000-27,000 BC)

The history of the Great Mother Goddess begins 40,000 years ago. At that time Cro-Magnon people made their first appearance in Europe. The Cro-Magnons were the first early people who looked like we look today with similar skulls, posture, and dexterity.

During the time of Cro-Magnon's entry into Europe, slowly receding ice sheets covered the European continent. Beyond the leading edge of the glaciers there lay vast stretches of tundra. The tundra was home to wooly mammoth and mammoth hunters. The mammoth hunters were not nomadic. They lived in small settled communities.

In this communal environment women thrived and by working together made important improvements in their quality of life. This meant finding grains, roots, berries, etc., to supplement their diet of meat. They also searched for plants for their medicinal properties. During this period there was a harmonious, balanced division of labor between men who hunted the mammoth and women who gathered and cared for their children.

Since food was plentiful, these Ice Age people lived peaceful lives in balance with nature. It also meant that they had leisure time to create flint tools as well as ponder existential questions, like how we got here.

For Ice Age hunters and gathers this question was answered by the belief that the Creator had to be a woman since it is obvious that only a woman can give birth. This meant that all things on earth must have originally come forth from her womb. Since the Creatress was regarded with great reverence, everything she gave birth to was regarded as sacred. For Paleolithic and Neolithic people there was no separation between what is sacred and what is profane, everything was sacred. In the words of cultural historian William Irwin Thompson the culture of the mammoth hunters and gatherers is spirituality personified, "every event is part of a story; every part is connected to the whole, every act is flooded with the sacred".

No less mysterious than the creation of the earth and everything on it was the woman's ability to give birth to a baby. The male role in conception was not understood in Paleolithic times. Sex was not associated with pregnancy because there is a nine month delay between the sex act and birth of a child. Instead, it was commonly thought that it was the light of the full moon that made a woman pregnant.

This seemed perfectly logical to the people at that time. After all, the moon swells, grows round and full the same way a womanís belly swells, grows round and full during pregnancy. After birth of the baby, the belly returns to itís normal size, same as the moon.

A second source of lunar evidence was based on the correspondence between a womenís menstrual cycle and the moonís monthly cycle. Because of this observed correspondence it was thought that the moon was directly responsible for menstrual flows. With two such obvious, easily observable similarities, it was believed for many thousands of years that the moon and women shared a mysterious bond.

Because of this cosmic connection to the heavens, women were seen as possessing a power far greater than ordinary men. Women were also seen as the sole parent and, thus, they held the key to the regeneration and survival of the clan. Only she could give birth to the next generation of children.

Woman's power also extended to all life forms not just the birth of children. Her power, derived from the moon, was seen as necessary for the continued birth and rebirth of all plants, crops, and animals. All these powers were eventually conferred on a single, divine figure we call the Great Mother.

Countless small figurines were made that represented the Great Mother's ability to bring fertility to women desiring children, to the success of the hunt and the planted seed.

A woman drawing down power from above with raised arms and conveying it to the hunter.

As long as the Great Mother was honored, women enjoyed respect in their society. When the Great Mother was eventually replaced by powerful male gods, womenís place in society was also greatly diminished.

We know Paleolithic people thought about life and death because of the art forms they left behind as early as 30,000 BC. They consisted of small, flat stones with vulva engravings.

The vulva was seen not so much as a sex symbol but rather as representing the doorway out of which the mystery of newborn life emerged. Because the whole process of birth was shrouded in mystery, the vulva engravings symbolized woman's awesome power. Not only did that power seem miraculous, it was absolutely vital for the renewal of each generation of the tribe or clan. To understand the importance attached to these events, one only has to count the proliferation of thousands of vulvae artifacts found throughout Europe and as well as the numerous vulvae carved on the walls of caves during this time period.

To discover the worldwide extent of carved vulva images see Max Dashu's Sacra Vulva


As early as the Aurignacian period burials became ceremonial. The body was often buried in a fetal position and adorned with jewelry including shells, beads, ivory and teeth. Their heads were sometimes covered with headdress made of cowrie shells. The cowrie shell resembles a vulva and was widely used in the ancient world. Both men and women were buried with food offerings, indicating a belief in the continuity of life after death.

The bodies were often covered with red ochre. This was a common practice worldwide in both Paleolithic and Neolithic times. It was used as a ritual substitute for blood. Blood was considered to be the one essential element that made life possible. Red ochre is one of the oldest religious symbols and may also have been a reference to women's menstrual blood. Menstrual blood, it was thought, gave life to the fetus when a woman was pregnant. When a women was not pregnant that blood was not needed and was released from her body.

GRAVETTIAN ERA (27,000-19,000BC)

By 27,000 BC Paleolithic artists began carving female figurines, commonly called Venuses. They were carved in bone, ivory or stone and are the earliest examples of sculpture in the round. One of the finest and most famous Venuses is called the Venus of Willendorf, 25,000 BC. Venuses came in all shapes and sizes and generally emphasized large breasts and hips with arms and legs that tapered and disappeared short of hands and feet. The head is usually featureless and often bent forward.

Art historian George Weber has suggested that Venuses like the Venus of Willendorf were not standing as usually depicted but rather floating in water.

The Venus of Laussel is another famous Venus figure representing the Great Mother Goddess.

She was carved in rock at the opening of a cave in southern France, circa 19,000 BC. With her large breast, stomach and wide hips this Paleolithic Goddess is of a type resembling thousands of other figurines found in excavations from Spain to Siberia.

Coverage of such a wide geographical area attests to the near universal reverence shown to the Mother Goddess. For ten's of thousands of years, beginning in the late Paleolithic and continuing through the Neolithic era, culminating in Catal Huyuk and Mesopotamia,the Mother Goddess had no equal. Although given many names, it was always the Great Mother Goddess who was worshiped.

The proliferation of goddess figurines also tells us something about the spirituality of the Paleolithic people. The concept of a Great Mother Goddess as depicted by Paleolithic artists, probably had its roots in ancestor worship. Merliln Stone in WHEN GOD WAS A WOMAN suggest that a charismatic mother may have been remembered as the sole parent of the clan. It follows that the woman who had been their most revered primal ancestor may have, over time, been deified as the Divine Ancestress. In artistic representations she would have been recognized as divine by her connection to the moon. For example, in the Venus of Laussel sculpture, the woman is holding up a bison horn. The shape of the horn symbolized her cosmic connection to the crescent moon. The horn also may have symbolized the vulva, representing women's unique power, especially her awesome birthing power.

MAGDELENIAN ERA (16,000-10,000BC)

The Magdelenian period marked the height of the Late Paleolithic culture. No finer expression of this achievement can be found then the cave murals at Lascaux.

These paintings were masterfully executed on cave walls by Paleolithic artists who had a thorough knowledge of the animals they painted. Their art was a glorification of a hunting culture that at that time was already quickly disappearing. Warming weather patterns were changing the landscape. Forest were replacing grasslands. The bison were already disappearing at the time they were being painted on cave walls. The animals the Paleolithic hunters had been hunting in Europe for thousands of years were moving north into Siberia where the climate was still cold.

CATAL HUYUK 7,200-5,500 BC

Catak Huyuk, a Neolithic city in Turkey was first partially excavated in 1960's.

It revolutionized the way archeologists understood prehistory. It is the largest known Neolithic site with a population of at least 6,000 people at its peak. Catal Huyuk was a major trading center and religious center for worship of the Great Goddess. Skeletal evidence indicates that three distinct racial types coexisted peacefully in this cosmopolitan community. There is no sign of warfare or violence.


Social structures have to be inferred from evidence left behind in early graves and settlements. Generally speaking, sedentary settlements or villages led to a consolidation of woman's power. The development of agriculture and domestication of animals led to sedentary villages in the Neolithic era. This in turn allowed women to function as a cohesive group. Catal Huyuk is the pre-eminent example of such a Neolithic society. There is much evidence that women played a dominant role in the home and religious practices of that society. In such a matrifocal society daughters continue living with their mother's family after pregnancy or marriage. Mother, daughters, and children all lived together in one family unit.

Most likely Catal Huyuk was also a matrilineal society. In a matrilineal society the inheritance passes on to the daughter or the mother's brother. The mother is seen as the sole parent and children take their mother's name.

Many people also believe that Catal Huyuk was a matriarchal society. In other words, women not only ruled in the home but all the affairs of the city as well. There is much evidence to support such a belief.

The people of Catal Huyuk lived comfortably with each room containing a shrine, hearth and granary. They practiced the domestication of animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, and dogs. This ensured a plentiful supply of milk, cheese, wool and meat. They had perfected the methods of agriculture so that grain was in such abundant supply it was used to feed cattle. They grew a wide variety of other plants many of which were not native to their area.

Catal Huyuk was built and rebuilt nine different times in the two thousand years of its existence. The lowest levels continued the Paleolithic tradition of mural painting as found in the Lascaux caves. Later levels show these same walls white washed and turned into temple rooms for the Mother Goddess. They were decorated with large images of the Mother Goddess giving birth.

Enthroned Goddess on left was found in a grain bin at Catal Huyuk 6000 BC. It is the oldest representation of Anatolian goddess who would be known as Cybele. Image on right is the enthroned Roman Goddess, Cybele 250 AD.

In addition to being an important religious gathering point, Catal Huyuk was also a busy commercial center. Located on the path of an important trading route to Asia, it was known for its obsidian, a highly valued, glassy, dark volcanic rock.

Obsidian is extremely hard and was prized for its usefulness in making everything from spearheads to mirrors. Obsidian came from a volcano that was not very far from Catal Huyuk, so it's citizens had an abundant supply of this precious rock. Obsidian contributed significantly to the economic wealth and well being of the city.


The women of Catal Huyuk were quite industrious and inventive. They invented the oven so that each home had a hearth that was equipped with an oven. They also invented the art of making bread out of wheat and baking it in their ovens. They were also the first ones to create a hot enough fire to make kiln hardened pottery for the storage of grain.

Advanced fire techniques also led to the smelting of lead and copper, both of which were fashioned into beads and jewelry. They were the first to create a new industry by learning how to shear their sheep and create woolen textiles.

The women of Catal Huyuk also created their own innovative Neolithic architecture.

Each home consisted of one room. A group of one-room homes were arranged wall-to-wall around a courtyard. There were no streets, no windows or doors. They entered their homes by descending a ladder through an opening in the roof. Walking from roof to roof was the only way one could visit one's neighbors.

Already in ancient times their Paleolithic ancestors had created a lunar calendar.

By recording phases of the moon using coded scratch marks on a piece of bone, they were able to keep track of the seasons. This enabled them to know, for example, when the time was right to plant or harvest and when the reindeer would be rutting.

It is not known how or why the Catal Huyuk came to an end. There is no sign of fire or destruction.



Since the earliest evolution of humanity, the maternal love of a woman for her child is the one defining factor that has made a civil society possible. While early men developed mechanical skills required for the hunt, women in their communal, matrifocal environment developed social skills of compassion and love. In the mother/child relationship mothers had the opportunity to practice consideration for others, self- sacrifice, co-operation, altruism etc. As a result Paleolithic/Neolithic women possessed a surprisingly early understanding of what it meant to be humane.


Not only were Paleolithic and Neolithic women learning how to create a civil society based on love and cooperation, they also were very innovative. The driving force for change was spurred by the natural love a mother has for her children.

Paleolithic mothers were motivated to look for nutritional plants to feed their children. This eventually led to agriculture and grain production.

They were motivated to look for medicinal plants and herbs to cure their children's illnesses. This eventually led to holistic medicine.

They were motivated to provide shelter for their children. This eventually led to tents, and mud and brick buildings.

They were motivated to provide warm clothing for their children. This eventually led to tanning of hides, sewing, and weaving.

They were motivated to provide a warm home for their children. This eventually led to the use of fire for warmth and the family hearth.


From what can be learned from Catal Huyuk, patriarchy and matriarchy can result in two very different styles of governance. William Thompson, commenting on prehistorical forms of matriarchy and historical forms of patriarchy observes:

"patriarchy establishes law, matriarchy established custom;

"patriarchy establishes military power, matriarchy established religious authority;

"where patriarchy encourages the cult of the warrior, matriarchy encouraged the tradition-bound cohesion of the collective".

In other words, in this women-orientated collective, civilian order was maintained, not by masculine military, police, or political power but by custom and by feminine cultural authority.


Women was, is, and always will be goddess and creatrix... Feminists who argue that goddess worship historically preceded the notion of God as father are certainly correct. What they fail to see is that the goddess, since her historical dethronement, has remained alive and well, and continues to exert power from deep in the hidden recesses of the male psyche...As our source, the goddess is both historically and psychologically primary. She has been an inevitable symbol of divinity since the beginning of time and remains a sacred presence in the timeless dimension of every psyche." Sam Keen, Fire in the Belly

"In re-visioning the past we envision the future. We are faced with the necessity of evolving a new social structure. If we are to survive, we're going to have to resurrect the values once associated with female based religious systems--values of compassion and healing, of providing and sheltering, of holding all life sacred." -Layne Redmond, When the Drummers were Women






Max Dashu,





*WHEN GOD WAS A WOMAN by Merlin Stone


THE GREAT MOTHER by Erich Newmann


*WOMAN'S MYSTERIES: Ancient and Modern by Esther Harding

ROOTS OF CIVILIZATION by Alexander Marshack

*Books reviewed in Voices from the Underground