Arthur Evans

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Arthur Evans : biography

8 July 1851 – 11 July 1941

Now that the restriction of the Ottoman firman was removed, there was a great rush on the part of all the other archaeologists to obtain first permission to dig from the new Cretan government. They soon found that Arthur had a monopoly. Using the Cretan Exploration Fund, now being swollen by contributions from others, he paid off the debt for the land. Then he ordered stores from Britain. He hired two foremen, and they hired 32 diggers. He went joyfully to work on the flower-covered hill in March, 1900.

Assisted by Dr. Duncan Mackenzie, who had already distinguished himself by his excavations on the island of Melos, and Mr. Fyfe, an architect from the British School at Athens, Evans employed a large staff of local labourers as excavators, and began work in 1900. Within a few months they had uncovered a substantial portion of what he called the Palace of Minos. The term "palace" may be misleading; Knossos was an intricate collection of over 1000 interlocking rooms, some of which served as artisans’ workrooms and food processing centres (e.g. wine presses). It served as a central storage point, and a religious and administrative center.

On the basis of the ceramic evidence and stratigraphy, Evans concluded that there was another civilization on Crete that had existed before those brought to light by the adventurer-archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann at Mycenae and Tiryns. The small ruin of Knossos spanned and the palace had a maze-like quality that reminded Evans of the labyrinth described in Greek mythology. In the myth, the labyrinth had been built by King Minos to hide the Minotaur, a half-man half-bull creature that was the offspring of Minos’ wife, Pasiphae, and a bull. Evans dubbed the civilization once inhabiting this great palace the Minoan civilization.

By 1903, most of the palace was excavated, bringing to light an advanced city containing artwork and many examples of writing. Painted on the walls of the palace were numerous scenes depicting bulls, leading Evans to conclude that the Minoans did indeed worship the bull. In 1905 he finished excavations. He then proceeded to have the room called the throne room (due to the throne-like stone chair fixed in the room) repainted by a father-and-son team of Swiss artists, the Émile Gilliérons Junior and Senior. While Evans based the recreations on archaeological evidence, some of the best-known frescoes from the throne room were almost complete inventions of the Gilliérons, according to his critics.Gere, Cathy Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009), 111.

Senior trustee

All the excavations at Knossos were done on leave of absence from the museum. "While the Keeper’s salary was not generous, the conditions of residence were very liberal … the keeper could and should travel to secure new acquisitions".Macgillivray Minotaur – Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth. But in 1908 at the age of 57 he resigned his position to concentrate on writing up his Minoan work. In 1912 he refused the opportunity to become President of the Society of Antiquaries, a position which his father had already held. But in 1914 at the age of 63, when he was too old to take part in the War, he took on the Presidency of the Antiquaries which carried with it an ex officio appointment as a Trustee of the British Museum and he spent the War successfully fighting the War Office who wanted to commandeer the museum for the Air Board. He thus played a major role in the history of the British Museum as well as in the history of the Ashmolean Museum.

Notes

Other legacies

Evans was knighted in 1911 for his services to archaeology and is commemorated both at Knossos and at the Ashmolean Museum, which holds the largest collection of Minoan artifacts outside of Greece. He received an honorary doctorate (D.Litt.) from the University of Dublin in June 1901.

In 1913 he paid £100 to double the amount paid with the studentship in memory of Augustus Wollaston Franks, established jointly by the University of London and the Society of Antiquaries, which was won that year by Mortimer Wheeler.