Piecing together the archaeologist

Arthur Evans's Travels in Crete 1894-1899
July 19, 2002

On March 23 1900 Arthur Evans initiated his excavations at the site of Kefala, better known by its ancient name, Knossos, now the third most visited archaeological site in Greece (after the Acropolis in Athens and Olympia, site of the ancient Olympics). The progress and results of Evans's excavations are well known not only from the monumental work he published between 1921 and 1935, The Palace of Minos , but also from his preliminary reports and from the notebooks kept during the excavations by Evans and his assistant Duncan Mackenzie that have been examined in detail by scholars to understand better the site's complex stratigraphy.

Less well known is the "prehistory" of Evans's work at Knossos, a subject Ann Brown, who retired in 1994 from her post as research assistant in Oxford's Ashmolean Museum, has made her own. She has already produced two extensively illustrated short books for the Ashmolean: Arthur Evans and the Palace of Minos (1983), on Evans's excavations, and Before Knossos: Arthur Evans's travels in the Balkans and Crete (1993), covering Evans's career prior to Knossos. Her new book - to call it an "edition" undervalues her contribution - provides a detailed account of Evans's activities for the previous six years ending on March 23 1900.

It begins on March 15 1894 when Evans arrived on Crete for the first time: "Arrived considerably the worse for voyage - Juno - A. Lloyd - bad. 24 hrs voyage from Piraeus." Evans, at age 42, was embarking on a new phase of his life, following the death of his wife. He had spent some years based in Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) as The Manchester Guardian 's correspondent in the Balkans, where he had met and married Margaret Freeman, daughter of Edward Freeman (regius professor of modern history at Oxford from 1884). In 1882 Evans returned to England. He was unemployed for two years, during which he travelled to Greece, where he met Heinrich Schliemann, excavator of Troy and Mycenae. In 1884, he was appointed keeper of the Ashmolean Museum and was responsible for its re-establishment in Beaumont Street and for its development as an archaeological collection, as set out in his inaugural lecture, "The Ashmolean Museum as a home of archaeology in Oxford".

At this time he seems to have read Arthur Milchhofer's book, published in 1883, on the beginnings of art in Greece, which suggested a Cretan origin for seals found at Mycenaean sites. His curiosity was further piqued by the acquisition in 1889 by the Ashmolean from the Reverend Greville Chester of a four-sided seal (purportedly from Sparta, but in fact from Crete) inscribed with signs that Evans dubbed "Hieroglyphic". These objects appear to have inspired Evans's quest for a pre-alphabetic writing system on the island. Further fuel arrived in 1893 when J. L. Myres returned from a visit to Crete with similar seals for the Ashmolean and eager himself to excavate at Knossos. Intellectually primed, but saddened by the death of his wife, Evans left for Crete in early 1894, by way of Italy, Sicily, Egypt and Athens.

After a short introduction outlining the historical and archaeological background on Crete and summarising Evans's travels, the core of Brown's book comprises a year-by-year account of Evans's travels from 1894 to 1899. Only the account of the first year is substantially in Evans's own words. Seventy-eight pages of Evans's "Notebook C", spanning March 15 to April 24 1894, are accompanied by a line-by-line transcription, explanatory notes and illustrations (a mixture of Evans's sketches plus photographs).

Another diary, in which Evans recorded most of his Cretan travels from 1896 to 1899, existed, but is now untraceable. As a result, apart from two nine-day stretches belonging to 1896 and 1899 also preserved in "Notebook C", Brown has painstakingly reconstructed the rest of Evans's travels from various sources, including quotations in Time and Chance (1943), the biography of Evans by his half-sister Joan and from references to sites in John Pendlebury's Archaeology of Crete (1939). Also important are accounts by Evans in the Academy magazine, of which he published one (jointly with Myres) in 1895 and four in 1896 (all reprinted here), and a series of letters from 1898 commenting on the political situation on Crete printed in The Manchester Guardian and subsequently published as Letters from Crete . The unstable situation had kept Evans away from Crete in 1897, when he travelled with Myres in North Africa instead. Brown has also made extensive use of other notebooks and letters in the Ashmolean's archive, unpublished diaries and papers, such as those of Myres and David Hogarth, director of the British School at Athens from 1897 to 1900, and published accounts by archaeologists and others.

However, assembling a narrative chronology of Evans's travels is not this book's only achievement. The location of many of the sites Evans visited - particularly in the vicinity of the Lasithi region of east-central Crete and in the far east of the island - remained uncertain, even to Pendlebury who travelled extensively in the island in the 1930s. Brown has visited a number of these sites and, with archaeologists, has plausibly identified them on the ground. Her own brief observations, together with reproductions of Evans's plans and more recent photographs and literature on about 70 of them, are collected in a "Site gazetteer". Sites that appear here are marked in the text with an asterisk. A similar system identifies more than 40 key actors (archaeological and political) who have a brief biographical entry, with references, in a "Personalities" section. Equally, every artefact mentioned - and there are more than 200 in the 1894 diary alone - is cross-referenced to an entry in a 428-item "Catalogue" that is invaluable in identifying the place, date and circumstances of acquisition of objects.

Focused through the lens of Evans's viewpoint (coloured inevitably by his earlier experiences in the Balkans), this volume offers a rich image of life on Crete in the 1890s that will appeal to anyone with interests in the practice and social context of late-19th century archaeology or in the social history of "late Ottoman" Crete and its relations with the nation-state of Greece.

The backdrop to the action is formed by the broader conditions - physical and political - on Crete as it made the transition from Ottoman rule to a protectorate under the great powers (Britain, France, Italy and Russia) with Prince George of Greece as high commissioner. In 1913, Crete became part of Greece following the Balkan wars. The book also reminds us that Evans was one of a group of archaeologists, both local, like Iosef Hazzidakis, president from 1883 of the Society for the Promotion of Learning in Iraklion, and foreign, chiefly representatives of Britain, France and Italy. All were jockeying to claim sites for exploration, including Knossos, and the drawn-out saga, documented here, of Evans's purchase of land to excavate there, illustrates the situation. Schliemann had attempted to purchase the site in 1886, but baulked at the price. The French archaeologist Andre Joubin reached an agreement to purchase in 1891, but it lapsed after two years. After six years of persistent negotiation, Evans succeeded, with assistance from Hazzidakis and others. The purchase concluded on March 2 1900, days before excavation began. In recognition of Joubin's prior claim, the British School at Athens ceded to the French School its rights to excavate at ancient Lato (then known as Goulas), a site that had exercised a fascination on Evans. With the establishment of the protectorate, the activities of foreign archaeologists came under more stringent regulation. Hazzidakis was appointed overseer of antiquities for central and eastern Crete in 1899, the same year in which Crete's first antiquities legislation, which he had assisted in drafting, came into force. The legislation forbade the export of antiquities and required the supervision of archaeological work by local representatives.

This book almost marks the centenary of Evans's excavations, but it also marks a significant publishing anniversary. It is the 1,000th volume in the International Series of the British Archaeological Reports, a series that has provided a timely outlet for archaeological scholarship, particularly doctoral theses and conference proceedings, for more than a quarter of a century.

John Bennet is lecturer in Aegean prehistory, University of Oxford.

Arthur Evans's Travels in Crete 1894-1899: International Series No. 1,000

Editor - Ann Brown, with Keith Bennett
ISBN - 1 84171 281 7
Publisher - Archaeopress
Price - £59.00
Pages - 509

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