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I always thought that there was proof of the existence of matriarchal society in the ancient times but apparently, according to Wikipedia this hypothesis is mostly discredited today. Why?

Wiki cites:

The view of matriarchy as constituting a stage of cultural development now is generally discredited. Furthermore, the consensus among modern anthropologists and sociologists is that a strictly matriarchal society never existed." 'Matriarchy', Encyclopædia Britannica, 2007

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Just to be clear, Wiki doesn't seem to be very helpful as far as details. I added their cite. –  DVK Jan 23 '13 at 14:16
E.g. David Graeber in Debt: The First 5,000 Years refers to early matriarchal societies (plural!) multiple times, and may be a good source to consult for context and further references. It your question is about whether there was a time when each-and-every society was matriachal (hence the singular), I think this is not implied e.g. by Graeber. IMO we are still living in different societies (not a single society of same societies) today, although colonialism/globalization/consumerism/etc. have reduced differences. –  Drux Jan 23 '13 at 16:45
I supposed there were the Amazons. But how fictitious were they? –  Tom Au Aug 27 '13 at 21:06
The Chinese character for the word "family name" is 姓 and the root of this character is 女 (female). This means that at least at some point in time the Chinese believed that the family name used to come from the mother. –  Apoorv Khurasia Jan 27 '14 at 13:39
@MonsterTruck I'm not sure if that says much about whether ancient Chinese society was matriarchal or not, because it would be too simple an explanation. Another theory would be that the female root is from the birthplace of the mother, as in the example of , who is sometimes called 姚舜: "舜母居姚虚,因以为姓。" - 舜's mother lived in 姚虚, which is used as his surname. Besides 姓 (family name) there was also 氏 (clan name). This sounds like a good question for Chinese.SE though. –  congusbongus Jan 28 '14 at 6:56

4 Answers 4

There are two issues here. The first is the old romantic idea that societies in ancient times went through some kind of matriarchal phase, which they presumably outgrew. This further implies that matriarchal setups are somehow less advanced (but perhaps more natural and/or idillic) than patriarchal ones. That has indeed been discredited.

The other is the argument that there never in known history has been a true Matriarchal society. To me this argument is an argument over definition, with more than a passing resemblence to the No True Scottsman argument. For instance, known societies (eg: Tuareg) where women run families and inheritence runs through the female line only are renamed Matrifocal or somesuch. So in this case, it depends how you define "Matriarchal".

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and don't forget that for many early societies no records about their power structures survive. Each archeologist and historian uses his or her own cultural, religious, and/or political bias to explain the little that is found. E.g. a well appointed grave of a woman could be interpreted as a powerful queen, a revered priestess, or a human sacrifice, all based on the same data. –  jwenting Jan 24 '13 at 9:34

Ah. The issue is Marija Gambutas, a well-respected anthropologist, archaeologist and scholar of linguistics. She did some groundbreaking work on the dissemination of Indo-European languages and the history of the baltic and slavic peoples, and was pretty near the top of her profession.

Then she went a little nuts.

She became involved in Second Wave Feminism and Environmentalism, which is in and of itself no bad thing (most of her colleagues were as well - it was the '60s), but then she started making some ahistorical claims in support of her politics not validated by archaeological or linguistic evidence, which is kind of a bad thing. Her "Goddess" books became real popular with New Age movements of all descriptions, and real unpopular with other experts in the field.

Here is a good article in the New York Times that explains the controversy.

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Note to other readers, the link in this last paragraph was from an article in 1990 when all this "Ancient Goddess Religon" stuff was going full-bore. It really should be read if you are interested in this topic (or even if you just heard all that talk repeated as serious science back in the day). –  T.E.D. Jan 24 '13 at 16:58
...however, this leads me to wonder if the response from the scientific community to this culturally popular idea hasn't gone too far. Hence the denial from many of there ever having been a "true" matriarchal society in all of history. It wouldn't be the first time a scientific community has overreacted in this way. –  T.E.D. Jan 24 '13 at 17:01
I'm not certain anyone can argue that there has never been a matriarchal society. Hopi and Iriquoi probably qualify, as does the Mosuo culture in China. Here's an article about some matrilineal/matriarchal cultures in India: socyberty.com/society/matriarchal-societies-in-india –  RI Swamp Yankee Jan 24 '13 at 17:52
I'd agree. However, that is exactly this question, so the content of your comment probably ought to be in your answer. :-) –  T.E.D. Jan 24 '13 at 20:03
@RISwampYankee: That's now a broken link in your comment of Jan 24, '13. Can you fix? –  Pieter Geerkens Jan 27 '14 at 3:45

I always thought that there was proof of the existence of matriarchal society in the ancient times but apparently, according to Wikipedia this hypothesis is mostly discredited today. Why?

No, it hasn't been discredited, just not proven, as mother-god states:

One frequently hears comments to the effect that "the once-popular theory of ancient matriarchy has now been discredited by scholars". The truth behind this statement is simply this. Scholars have declared, rightly, that there is no evidence that earlier civilisations were actually ruled by women. This is perfectly true, for there are no written records extant for these periods (which constitute a length of history many times greater than the whole era of patriarchy) and it is impossible to be certain what their social institutions were. What is quite clear is that in their iconography they were almost exclusively feminine-oriented.

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Actually that statement is not all facts we have several tribes and groups that show Matriarchal systems. They try and hide evidence but more and more comes out every day. Statues of the Mother Godess for one were denied by now we have found so many that they cannot deny that they used to worship a Godess so early in man's history. The British usually try and argue against it because they have a queen but in a true Matriarchal society you do not pass belongings or names through the male you do it through the female line. Just having a female ruler would not be so, you would also have to have priestesses and female warriors who did not care about endogamy. as well as admire the womb and claim its superiority to anything male.I see several myths on both sides. Those that do admit try and claim more equality among practicers but the reality is, that it is normally anti-male rhetoric all over again. That is why Feminists are so attracted to it. They cannot write all the Godess Worshipers out of history no matter how hard they try. They are trying harder than ever to cover up the fact that these societies existed and are destroying more and more information all the time. We know that this is the case we can even see it in the Bible with the prophet Jeremaih when he is talking to Israel about worshiping the Queen of heaven and here many different idols under her. Solomon or the writer or writers of proverbs talks a little about it in his proverbs on wisdom.I would like to say though that matriarchal systems where not always built around the GOdess only but that is where the real evidence is most abundent. There were fazes were men played more and more of a part. I will say this they were not more peaceful that is where the feminists are wrong and men were not treated as equals. although I do not agree with my sources 100% I can tell you the proof is there but is just being covered up and for what reason the most childish of all. http://www.matriarchiv.info/?page_id=34&lang=en http://www.belili.org/marija/eller_response.html

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This is a lot of assertions and a lot of accusations of a conspiracy by "them", and two links to websites. I find it difficult to separate the paranoia from the factual claims. It would be helpful if you could revise the answer into a more academically supported/supportable argument. –  Mark C. Wallace May 13 '14 at 18:22
And when you do so, please use paragraphs. This answer as it stands is a nearly unreadable wall-o-text. –  David Hammen May 13 '14 at 21:06

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