Arthur Evans and the Palace of Knossos
Archaeology has contributed greatly to our knowledge of past civilisation and in turn the general understanding of humanity’s progression through the ages. Without archaeology, this knowledge and understanding would be extremely limited in its range of sources and evidence. Ancient civilisations underground provide an extensive range of remains and artefacts from which historians can draw accurate, informed conclusions about mortals who have long since turned to dust. An impressive example of a culture whose creators have long since passed on yet leave an indelible mark on modern society: the Palace of Knossos, central administration and cultural building in the largest city of the period known as Minoan Crete (Bronze Age). Co-ordinated by Sir Arthur John Evans, the discovery of the Palace and subsequent deductions made from the findings, added greatly to the depth of knowledge concerning prehistoric Mediterranean Europe. Without Evan’s excavations of Knossos and the consequent revelations, present day knowledge and understanding of the history of Mediterranean Europe be far less certain and in-depth than it currently is.
The first discovery of Knossos as an archaeological site was in 1878, by a Greek named Minos Kalokairinos; however the actual excavations were initiated and conducted by Sir Arthur John Evans (Swindale, 1998, online). Born in 1851, Evans (See Appendix 1) was raised in Hertfordshire, England, educated at Harrow and Oxford and upon graduation in 1865 was given a large allowance by his father, also an amateur archaeologist (Odyssey Adventures, 2012, online). He then toured European countries such as Turkey, Italy and the Balkans, feeding his zest for discovery and adventure, and was later appointed curator of the Ashmolean Museum in 1884. He is credited with greatly expanding the museum’s collection (including the largest set of Minoan artefacts outside Greece) and quality of exhibition, throughout the twenty five years in which he curated it (Oxford University, 2012, online). From 1900-1931, Evans involved himself wholly in the excavation and interpretation of the prehistoric civilisation which he entitled Minoan Crete (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2013, online). He published his life’s work in four volumes between 1921 and 1935, entitled The Palace of Minos at Knossos (Athena Publications, 1996-2013, online). Whilst he passed away in 1941, Evans is still succeeded by the immense legacy of his discoveries and progress into proving the value and importance of archaeology in the discipline of history.
A year after the death of his wife in 1893, Evans toured extensively throughout Crete, where he discovered many stone seals and coins inscripted with an ancient set of hieroglyphics, a forerunner to the Mycenaean language. His study of these resulted in the publication of Cretan Pictography and Pre-Phoenician Script (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2013, online). These discoveries led him to the speculation of an ancient civilisation buried beneath Cretan soil. After meeting Kalokairinos during his travels, Evan’s speculations about a founding city, a precedent of Mycenaean civilisation, were confirmed (Athena Publications, 1996-2013, online). Evans employed around 180 excavators to carry out an open area excavation, gradually removing layers of strata and expanding the site outwards and downwards (Oxford University, 2012, online). Around a year after beginning the project, Evans’ hopes were rewarded beyond his wildest dreams (Faulkner, 2012, online). His team of excavators began to uncover an entire city centred about a grand structure which could potentially prove to be the mythical Palace of Minos (Burenhult, 2003, p.25). Shovels, picks and elbow grease were the most advanced excavation technology Evans had access to, and in spite of the way in which they were retrieved, the artefacts of the Palace of Knossos are in excellent condition (See Appendix 2) (Sacred...
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