Riane Eisler's "The Chalice and the Blade", published in 1988, presents a new theory of human cultural evolution, as well as a new vision of reconstructed history. Eisler draws from archaeological discoveries made in the latter half of the 20th century, as well as from mythology and contemporary feminist re-interpretations of earlier archaeological discoveries and mythology. She develops an idea of cultural evolution based on the "chaos theory", which provides the rubric for her understanding of systems change. She calls her idea "Cultural Transformation Theory". It is based in basic biological principles and presents ideas about the ways in which humans have interacted with their environment over time. Her study is an interesting one for environmental archaeology as a science because it challenges the prevailing cultural theories in the field.
[...] This “gender inequality” theory, which is as much a theory about dominance and power as it is one about methods of social organization, is primarily sociological, though Eisler states that the basic sexual dimorphism in humans is what allowed males, physically stronger half of humanity” to dominate (Eisler 92). Environmental archaeology, being interdisciplinary, and in principle as closely affiliated to the social sciences as the physical sciences, cannot justifiably reject qualitative evidence. The incorporation of more studies like Eisler's could provide the field with a deeper understanding of cultural, and by extension, historical change against which to compare findings. [...]
[...] One of the main critiques of cultural evolution put forth by Eisler and other social scientists putting forth a more “feminist” theory of cultural change is of the idea that cultural evolution is a linear process. In her introduction, Eisler states that in the sciences the term evolution is often used in two different ways. The normative use indicates a movement from lower to higher levels, whereas in a non-normative, historical sense, it is used to mean the “biological, and, by extension, cultural history of living species”. [...]
[...] The measuring of evolutionary rates on the paleontological level has produced a general consensus that “evolutionary rates among known fossil taxa of various mammalian groups seem to differ significantly, and this also seems true of many other lineages for which we have fossil information”, despite the fact that “incompleteness of the fossil record and the frequent absence of environmental intermediate groups also cloud many paleontological rate determinations (Strickberger Those who propose punctuated equilibrium are opposed by those who embrace a more gradualist understanding of the rate of evolution, and evidence has been found of both rate types. [...]
[...] This is why Dincauze is so critical of the recent focus on quantification, “during which,” he states, “[environmental archaeology] tried to achieve scientific standards comparable to those of the quantitative physical sciences, while keeping its social science credentials (Dincauze A loss of the historical structure that Darwinian theory had previously provided seemed to result in a greater focus on the data itself, which has resulted in a proliferation of data and an increasing number of debates over how to interpret and situate this data. [...]
[...] What is interesting about Eisler's theory is that although it draws from ideas in both the biological and physical sciences, it is mainly supported by archaeological data and feminist studies. Her first major claim draws primarily from evidence from Neolithic art. She claims that early cultures of this period, being primarily agriculture, had belief systems centered around the worship of a Goddess figure and the corresponding values of fertility that are generally associated with woman and giving and sustaining of life (Eisler Such worship, therefore, coincides with a worship of nature, as represented by the Goddess. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee