Sir Arthur Evans and the Palace of Knosos Discovering an Ancient Civilization

Ruins of the Palace of Knosos

A city called Knossos is mentioned a number of times in ancient Greek writings. The locals of Crete often would refer to a great civilization on their islands. Their stories were considered tails – tails for the tourist trade. The son of an estate owner on Crete knows better. His name is Minos Kalokairinos (Μίνως Καλοκαιρινός). In 1878, Minos located Knossos and attempted to excavate the site. He dug up some treasures that were placed in the old National Museum of Crete. Unfortunately, that museum burned to the ground in the riots of 1898. By that time, Minos was a bankrupt man.

In 1900, the British archeologist Arthur Evans came to Crete. He took up digging at the Knossos site. Being an Englishman, a powerful person from the greatest empire of its time, Evans had the needed money and influence. From 1900 to 1935, Evans and his fellow archeologists dug at the palace site.

Evans and others were surprised by what they found. It was a palace. Not what you think of as a palace today: the fancy home of a king and queen. It did have nice living spaces for a king and his queen. However, most of the palace was rooms for making goods – manufacturing. There were rooms for storing the manufactured goods. There were rooms with documents. When people were finally able to read the Linear B script, the documents were lists of manufactured goods. There were rooms were trade took place.

The palace complex was much larger than Evans and the others had thought it might be. It was ornate. It was apparently colorful in its day. It showed that the people on Crete during the time it was occupied lived a very luxurious life. It was the heart of a great civilization that existed from approximately 2650 to 1400 BCE. Different periods of this civilization were ruled from different palaces. The Palace at Knossos is the best-preserved palace. It represents life during only part of the civilization’s existence.

Idea of what the Palace of Knossos might have looked like based on the ruins.

Sir Arthur not only dug up the palace, he “restored” it. That means he rebuilt parts as he thought they might look. He repainted parts of the palace as he thought they might look. However, a lot of the restoration was based on what he THOUGHT things might look like. Today, archeologists frown upon restoration of archeological artifacts or items. It’s simply not done any more. If a part of an item is missing, it is not recreated and added to the original. We preserve what is there, even if it is incomplete.

Recent digs in 2014 have shown that Evans failed to find the entire palace complex. It is even larger that we ever thought. Perhaps more still exists undiscovered.

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ROBERT BRADY
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