The Year of Marija Alseikaite-Gimbutiene

January 20, 2021

This year Lithuania celebrates a world-renowned American-Lithuanian archaeologist, anthropologist, a pioneer of archaeomithology, Marija Birutė Alseikaitė-Gimbutienė (Marija Gimbutas).

Marija Birutė Alseikaitė-Gimbutienė was born on January 23, 1921 in Vilnius. She began to study at Vilnius Vytautas Magnus Gymnasium.

In 1931, the family moved to the provisional capital of Lithuania, Kaunas. There, Gimbutienė studied at Aušra Gymnasium, which she finished in 1938. In the same year, she started studying linguistics at the Faculty of Humanities of Vytautas Magnus University. In 1936, she participated in archaeological research in Lithuania, in 1938-1939, she took part in the excavation works of prehistoric burial grounds in Kaunas. After Lithuania regained Vilnius, Gimbutienė went to study archaeology at Vilnius University. In 1942, she defended her MA thesis “Modes of Burials in Lithuania in the Iron Age.” In 1944, when the Soviets were approaching Lithuania, the Gimbutas family left the country.

In 1946, Gimbutienė defended her PhD dissertation “Prehistoric Burial Rites in Lithuania” at the University of Tübingen, Germany. In 1949, the Gimbutas family left for the United States and settled in Boston. From 1950 to 1956, Gimbutienė worked at Harvard University translating Eastern European archaeological texts, teaching at the Department of Anthropology and later collaborating with Harvard’s Peabody Museum. In 1956, Gimbutienė’s book “The Prehistory of Eastern Europe” was published, in 1958, a study “Ancient Symbolism in Lithuanian Folk Art” and in 1963, a book “The Balts” came out.

Gimbutienė conducted archaeological research in the Balkans, Italy and Greece. Since 1964, Gimbutienė worked as a professor of European Archeology and Indo-European Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); since 1965, she was a curator of Old World Archeology.

In 2003, a film about Gimbutienė “Signs Out of Time” was released. The film examines her theories and their influence on the academic community, the development of feminism, etc. In 1993, for the book “The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe” (1991) the professor was awarded the prestigious Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in the non-fiction category. In 1993, Gimbutienė was presented with the title of Honorary Doctor of Vytautas Magnus University. Gimbutienė died in 1994 in Los Angeles.

The Lithuanian Archives of Literature and Art prepared a virtual exhibition dedicated to Gimbutienė. The exhibition showcases photos from the archeologist’s private and professional life, as well as her correspondence with students and colleagues. The exhibition is available here: