The English archaeologist Sir Arthur John Evans (1851-1941) is the man who put Knossos on the map. He was educated at the famous public school, Harrow, and then at Oxford University, before becoming curator of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford when he was 33‑years‑old: a job he held for the next 24 years. It was while here that he developed an interest in the coins and seals of Ancient Greece, and in particular those of Crete, which he first visited in 1894 in order to learn more.
Sir Arthur Evans' Excavations at Knossos
By 1899 he had begun excavations at Knossos, and quickly unearthed a Bronze Age city and a royal palace which he named Minos after the Cretan King and son of the Greek God Zeus. He called the civilisation Minoan, and while the bulk of the important excavations were done in the first few years of the 20th century, Evans continued work on the site until 1935 - by which time he was 84-years-old.
The most controversial aspect of his work is that he began to try to reconstruct the royal palace, and to re-paint it, so as to give us some idea of what it would have looked like at the time. To some scholars this was sacrilege, while to others it was a bold attempt to bring the palace back to life, and to convey some of its grandeur to the general public. Anyone who has seen the museum at the Agora in Athens, splendidly reconstructed by the American School of Archaeology, will have some sympathy with this view.
Linear A and Linear B
Another important discovery Sir Arthur Evans made at the site were 3000 clay tablets covered with two distinct types of indecipherable writing. One of these was referred to as Linear A, which is regarded as the language of the Minoans and has still not been fully deciphered to this day. The other was called Linear B, and this was not understood until 1952 when it was shown to be the language of the Ancient Greeks dating back to about 1500-1400 BC. This was an important step in understanding the development of the Ancient Greeks, as it showed that they had a written script much earlier than had previously been thought.
Evans himself worked on books in which he attempted to decipher the two scripts, but he will be most remembered as the man who discovered the Minoan Palace of Knossos. Less well-known is the fact that he was also a journalist in his early days, was a war correspondent in the Balkans, and in the 1880s researched and wrote a book that would sadly have been just as relevant a century later: the plight of the Slavs and Albanians in the regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, at that time struggling for their independence from Turkey. It was after this that Evans took up his job at the Ashmolean, which eventually led him to Knossos. He was created a Knight of the British Empire in 1911, and died in 1941 at the age of 90.
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