Arthur Evans

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Arthur Evans bigraphy, stories - Archaeologists

Arthur Evans : biography

8 July 1851 – 11 July 1941

Sir Arthur John Evans FRS (8 July 1851 – 11 July 1941) was an English archaeologist most famous for unearthing the palace of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete and for developing the concept of Minoan civilization from the structures and artifacts found there and elsewhere throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Evans was the first to define Cretan scripts Linear A and Linear B, as well as an earlier pictographic writing.

Along with Heinrich Schliemann, Evans was a pioneer in the study of Aegean civilization in the Bronze Age. The two men knew of each other. Evans visited Schliemann’s sites. Schliemann had planned to excavate at Knossos, but died before fulfilling that dream. Evans bought the site and stepped in to take charge of the project, which was then still in its infancy. He continued Schliemann’s concept of Mycenaean civilization but soon found that he needed to distinguish another civilization, the Minoan..

In addition to his archaeological contributions, Evans fulfilled a role in the British Empire for which there is no proper word in formal English. Although he was not a professional statesman or soldier, and was probably never a paid agent of the government, he nevertheless negotiated or played a role in negotiating unofficially with foreign powers in the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire, and subsequently the Turkish Republic, recognized this role, according to him informally the status of an ambassador. He was, on request of the revolutionary organizations of the peoples of the Balkans, a significant player in the formation of the nation of Yugoslavia. That nation sent representatives to his funeral in 1941. This role was one outcome of the informal network of associations created by the 19th century British educational system, of which Evans was, so to speak, a charter member.

Major creative works

Scripta Minoa

Evans found 3,000 clay tablets during excavations, which he transcribed and organized, publishing them in Scripta Minoa. As some of them are now missing, the transcriptions are the only source of those. He perceived that the scripts were two different and mutually exclusive writing systems, which he termed Linear A and Linear B. The A script appeared to have preceded the B. Evans dated the Linear B Chariot Tablets, so called from their depictions of chariots, at Knossos to immediately prior to the catastrophic Minoan civilization collapse of the 15th century BC.Hogan, C. Michael (2007) Knossos

One of Evans’ theses in the 1901 Scripta Minoa, is that most of the symbols for the Phoenician alphabet (abjad) are almost identical to the many centuries older, 19th century BC, Cretan hieroglyphs.

The basic part of the discussion about Phoenician alphabet in Scripta Minoa, Vol. 1 takes place in the section Cretan Philistines and the Phoenician Alphabet.Pages 77–94. Modern scholars now see it as a continuation of the Proto-Canaanite alphabet from ca. 1400 BC, adapted to writing a Canaanite (Northwest Semitic) language. The Phoenician alphabet seamlessly continues the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, by convention called Phoenician from the mid-11th century, where it is first attested on inscribed bronze arrowheads.Markoe (2000), p. 111.

Evans had no better luck with Linear B, which turned out to be Greek. Despite decades of theories, Linear A has not been convincingly deciphered, nor even the language group identified. His classifications and careful transcriptions have been of great value to Mycenaean scholars.

Archaeologist par excellence

Excavations at Aylesford

He undertook his first major excavation in England at Aylesford in Kent in 1887 when he excavated an Iron Age cemetery which later became the type site of the Aylesford Swarling culture which included the first wheel-made pottery in Britain, often connected with the ‘Belgae’.Archaeologia 52, 1891

The end and the beginning

In 1893, Arthur’s way of life as a married, middling archaeologist, puttering around the Ashmolean, and travelling extensively and perpetually on holiday with his beloved Margaret, came to an abrupt end, leaving emotional devasatation in its wake and changing the course of his life. Freeman died in March 1892. Always of precarious health, he had heard that Spain had a salubrious climate. Traveling there to test the hypothesis and perhaps improve his physical condition, he contracted smallpox and was gone in a few days. His oldest daughter did not survive him long. Always of precarious health herself – she is said to have had tuberculosis – she was too weak to prepare her father’s papers for publication, so she delegated the task to a family friend, Reverend William Stephens.