Arthur Evans

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Arthur Evans
father of the Minoan civilization

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Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth
by Joseph Alexander Macgillivray


Flamboyant, arrogant, short sighted and only 5'2", Arthur Evans is one of the most well-known archeologists in history. He believed that the legendary kingdom of King Minos was real and he used the clues in the myths and legends to find it. The Minoan civilization of Crete lay waiting to be discovered. In 1900 he unearthed what he called the Palace of Minos (now called the Palace of Knossos), and reconstructed this amazing culture.

When he began digging in Crete, he had 32 hired workers. Within a week he had increased the workforce to around a hundred, and paid for everything personally.
He came in the wake of Heinrich Schliemann, the amateur archeologist who discovered Troy. Archeology was moving from the amateur treasure hunt of Troy to a scientific discipline, and Evans was a part of that.

Evans was a product of Victorian England. He was influenced by Schliemann and by Arthur Milchhofer's suggestion that Crete had dominated the Mycenaean culture. He decided, in the face of strong resistance, that there was a civilization waiting to be discovered in Crete. He was arrogant and had strong opinions - he rarely admitted to being wrong, even in the face of evidence. An archeologist less single-minded may not have made this discovery, because it was his intense and romantic passion for the myths of the ancient world that drove him to excavate in Crete.

We don't know what they called themselves, but Evans called them the Minoans after King Minos, and the name seemed appropriate. Minos was the legendary King of Crete, who kept a creature (half man and half bull) in the labyrinth within the palace. The myth of Theseus described a ritual in which men and women, called bull leapers, performed acrobatic acts on the back of the bull. Theseus killed the Minotaur and escaped from the labyrinth with the help of the King's daughter, Ariadne. The palace that Evans discovered seemed to fit these stories.

Evans found many artifacts showing that bulls and bull-leaping were part of the culture, probably religious. The many twisting passages in the palace could well resemble a labyrinth to a visitor. Well preserved by volcanic ash, the palace at Knossos was a fantastic discovery. The artistry of these amazing people was revealed in still vibrant wall frescoes. The style is naturalistic, unlike the stiff depictions found in other cultures of the bronze age, such as Egypt.

Objects from the site were put on display in London in 1903 and he was richly rewarded with honors, including a knighthood. He spent the rest of his life continuing his work in Crete, and wrote a 5-volume work on his discoveries. One of his lectures in 1936 inspired Michael Ventris to work on deciphering Linear B, the Mycenaean script. Ventris was successful, but not until after Evans' death in 1941 at the age of 90. Linear A, the Minoan language, has still not been deciphered.

His excavations and the conclusions he drew from them remain controversial, but there is no doubt about his extraordinary achievement. Later archeologists have built on his discoveries to broaden our understanding of this remarkable peace-loving culture.

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