Lithuanian archaeologist well known for her encyclopedic knowledge of eastern European prehistory. Born and brought up in Vilnius, she took an MA degree at Vilnius University, before travelling to Tübingen, Germany, under difficult conditions in the later years of WW2. She took her Ph.D. in Tübingen in 1946, but emigrated to the USA in 1955. Initially undertaking rather routine translation work at Harvard University, she found time to research and write and soon produced important books on the archaeology of eastern Europe, such as the monumental The prehistory of Eastern Europe, vol. I: Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Copper Age cultures in Russia and the Baltic areas (1956, Cambridge, MA: American School of Prehistoric Research). These established her as the foremost figure in the field and in 1964 earned her a full professorship at the University of California at Los Angeles, where she worked until her retirement in 1990. There followed an enormously productive period during the 1960s and 1970s with surveys and excavations in Yugoslavia, Greece, and Italy. Gimbutas brought together linguistic and folklore evidence alongside the archaeological material, focusing increasingly on the origins of Indo‐European languages and their associations with Copper Age cultures of southeastern Europe. In exploring these questions she developed a series of ideas about the existence of a European mother goddess cult, which she outlined in her book Gods and goddesses of old Europe (1974, London: Thames & Hudson) and which, although not universally accepted, has found much favour with some sections of the feminist movement.
The Independent, 23 February 1994