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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
    
It's not discredited, it's just not proven. And which some argue that prehistoric matriarchy was hidden from whatever resource they claim from. But even if that was true it couldn't be proven true or false either before the advent or writing, or other record-keeping methods. –  Courtney Jan 27 at 3:14
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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. –  Monster Truck Jan 27 at 13:39
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3 Answers

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
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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?

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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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
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...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
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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
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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 at 3:45
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