Perpetuating Misinformation about Mythology

Open Letter to Ms. Amanda Foreman

Dear Ms. Foreman:

I just read your article,”The Amazon Women: Is There any Truth Behind the Myth?” in the online April edition of the Smithsonian. As a mythologist, I’m surprised by the amount of errors in this article. This is the Smithsonian magazine! Where is your sound, thorough research? Or, conversely, where are the fact-checkers and the Smithsonian editors?

Misinformation about myth and mythology can be common in our culture. Some misinformation is due to a dearth of practicing mythologists (leaving a large gap in our collective understanding) and some continues from centuries of patriarchal propaganda that paints myths as falsehoods or fantasy. However, the inaccuracies, errors, and misinformation that appear in your “Amazon Women” article seem to be caused by a lack of research coupled with journalistic whimsy posing as authoritative fact.

I must take you to task because there is so much misleading information in this brief article.

1. Per your statement regarding “the Bachofen-inspired theory of matriarchy: There was not a shred of physical evidence to support it.” This is a gross error that dismisses a societal structure that existed in many parts of the world thousands of years ago and persists to this day. Why would you disregard the indigenous matriarchal societies of the Native American Lakota,  Seneca Iroquois, Syilx, or Juchiteca, the Kuna of San Blas Islands of Panama, the Musuo in China, along with the Nayar and Kerala cultures of southwest India to name a few. Also, let me mention a few well-known ancient geographical areas where archaeology has shown no evidence of war in Paleolithic Anatolia, Paleolithic to Bronze Age “Old Europe” and Bronze Age Crete. All these cultures that show high participation in the veneration of female deities representing female power. You may be interested to investigate matriarchal studies– a growing discipline well-buttressed with archaeological findings.

2. Regarding your continued dismissal of matriarchal societies, you write, “though clearly not a matriarchal society, the ancient nomadic peoples of the steppes lived within a social order that was far more flexible and fluid than the polis of their Athenian contemporaries.” Again there is no conclusive evidence that Amazon women did not live matriarchally or even with matrilineal or matrifocal cultural emphases.  You simply aren’t qualified to state this bald dismissal. Additionally, in fairness to your readers, it would have been helpful to note that out of all the ancient Greek states at the time, Athens was by far the most patriarchal. There are several books that speak to the state of women in Athens compared to other Greek states, but just starting with Sarah B. Pomeroy’s work will be quite fruitful.

3. Your article barely mentions archaeology regarding Amazon women, but when you finally do at the end, it is not about any new findings. You reference the remarkable 1994 discovery in the Eurasian Steppes of ancient burial mounds which show definitive links to ancient Amazons. However, you neglect to credit the archaeologists: Dr. Jeannine Davis-Kimbal and Dr. Leonid Yablonsky.

4. Dr. Davis-Kimball wrote a book specifically about Amazon women and the astonishing archaeological evidence that supports their existence. There is no mention of her 2002 book: Warrior Women: An Archaeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines which would serve to alert readers of more scholarly information on this topic.