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.
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
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.
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.
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
from the labyrinth with the help of the King's daughter, Ariadne.
The palace that Evans discovered seemed to fit these stories.
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.
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.
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.