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Palace of Knossos in Crete

This article is a collaboration between Rick Archer and Samantha Archer
First published: May 2009

Sir Arthur Evans and the "accepted version" of Knossos

The name Sir Arthur Evans and the Palace of Knossos are practically synonymous.  The Palace of Knossos was first discovered in 1878, but wasn’t fully excavated until Evans bought the area in 1900.  

Evans had begun working on deciphering stone scripts in 1894 at Knossos.  When the island of Crete gained its freedom from Turkey in 1898, Sir Evans was able to purchase the land where he worked.  Now he began extensive excavations.

On the basis of the ceramic evidence and stratigraphy, Evans concluded that there was ancient civilization on Crete. The huge ruin of Knossos spanned 5 acres and had a maze-like quality to it that reminded Evans of the labyrinth described in Greek mythology as having been built by King Minos to hide the hideous Minotaur. It was Evans' decision to name the civilization once inhabiting this great palace the Minoans The Minoans were a seafaring culture that populated Crete during the Bronze Age (2300 – 600 BCE.)

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 his excavations at Knossos.

It was Sir Arthur Evans claim to fame that it was he who discovered the lost civilization of the Minoans. 

The Greek myth associated with the palace about Theseus and the Minotaur is fascinating, but walking around the ruins of Knossos today it is hard to imagine it to be a place of torment and death. Instead, today's reconstructed palace radiates with benign beauty through the elaborate architecture. The elegant wall frescoes which decorated the walls seem to speak of a people who approached the subtleties of life and the splendor of nature with a joyous disposition.

The Scary Death Shrine of Knossos

Story written by Samantha Archer

(Rick Archer's Note: Sam is my daughter.  She turned 17 during this trip.  In 2008, she was a Senior at Duchesne Academy here in Houston. In 2009 she will be a Freshman at the University of Texas)

Picture this: It is 2005. I am fourteen years old. I have been thrust into the jaws of what is known as high school.  Typically, being a freshman is extremely intimidating. You’re surrounded by places, people, and things that are completely new to you. But at my school, it was different. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t intimidated. I had attended the same school for the past ten years. It was no big deal... That was until I met Mrs. Hungerford, better known as The Queen.  Mrs. Hungerford had a very strong personality that made her seem larger than life.

The Queen was my freshman year English teacher.  My other teachers didn’t exactly remember when or why the title “the Queen” was adopted, but she definitely took to the name like a fish to water. In her room you could find thrones, crowns, and lots of jewelry.

The Queen made it her personal duty to intimidate every incoming freshman. While she loved us all to death, she found using scare tactics to teach grammar was the best way to go about it. She would throw erasers across the room to exemplify direct objects, she would make us do jumping jacks to wake us up in the morning, and scream at us in the hallway when our backpacks blocked her path. Needless to say, I loved her class.

Freshman Year English covered the classics: the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, Dante’s Inferno, etc. We studied Grecian plays, Roman mythology, and the ancient myth of Gilgamesh. Our curriculum didn’t stray far from the Classical canon.  In the spring the Queen introduced us to the Palace of Knossos.

Theseus and the Minotaur, Icarus Spreads his Wings

In Greek mythology, the Palace of Knossos is said to be where Theseus defeated the Minotaur.

To refresh your memory, the Minotaur was part man, part bull, and all monster.  The Minotaur belonged to King Minos of Crete.  In fact, the Minotaur got its name from combining Minos with Taurus, the Greek word for Bull.

One of the most famous aspects of Knossos was its reputed Labyrinth.  The Minotaur dwelt at the center of the Labyrinth, an elaborate maze-like construction built for King Minos of Crete down in the basement at the Palace of Knossos.  The Labyrinth was said to have 1300 maze-like compartments was designed by the architect Daedalus to hold the Minotaur.  The Labyrinth was a veritable chamber of horrors.  Daedalus had made the Labyrinth so cunningly that he himself could barely escape it himself after he built it. Young men and women would be placed in the Labyrinth.  They would wander around totally lost and scared out of their wits.  Escape was impossible because no one could find their way out.  Eventually the Minotaur would find them and devour them. 

According to the legend, King Aegeus of Athens was forced to pay tribute to King Minos of the Minoans. Every year the tribute included seven young men and seven young maidens. The fourteen young people from Greece would be let loose into the maze, where they would become hopelessly lost and eventually be eaten by the monster. King Aegeus' son, Prince Theseus of Athens, was determined to put an end to these sacrifices.  Theseus decided to volunteer as one of the sacrificial victims so that he could attempt to kill the Minotaur. Theseus was successful. He slew the Minotaur, then used a trail of twine he'd started laying down at the entrance of the labyrinth to find his way out of the maze.  Ironically, Theseus was aided by Ariadne, Minos' own daughter no less, who provided him with the fateful thread to help him find his way back out.  

Besides the story of the Minotaur, the Palace of Knossos also gave rise to the Legend of Icarus, the human birdman.  Icarus was the son of Daedalus.  Daedalus and Icarus wanted to escape this death house in the worst way, but King Minos forbade them to leave.  Searching for a way out, Daedalus, the genius architect, invented wax wings that would first allow his son to fly, but then tragically lead to death of his son Icarus.  As you recall, Icarus flew too close the sun, the heat melted the wax wings, and Icarus plunged to his death in the sea far below.

When The Queen, my English teacher, told us we would be studying the Palace of Knossos for two weeks, we groaned. The historical importance may be interesting to some, but not enough to really excite all 50 fourteen-year-old girls. We didn’t understand why we had to study an archaeological site for two WHOLE weeks, let alone why we were studying it in English class.

Well, the truth is that we were studying the Palace because the Queen wanted us to.  At my school, anything goes. If a teacher is really interested in something and wants to teach it, that's all that matters.  I’ve learned about film and music in U.S. History, the Jazz Age in American Literature, Roman Mythology in British Literature, and Hinduism in Algebra I.  Hinduism in Algebra I?  Doesn't add up, does it?  Go figure.

Now I was learning about the Palace of Knossos in Freshman English. Oh boy.  Uh, maybe I should make that "Oh girl".  I go to a girl's school after all.  Whatever.

Fortunately I love history so this wasn’t quite the torture session for me as it was for my classmates. But as we learned about the Cretan civilization and the formation of the sub-Mediterranean cults, I could not help but notice I was sitting in English class not reading a book. Not doing grammar exercises. Not learning vocabulary. How can you teach English without books?

I was starting to yawn a little myself.  But then the mystery began.  Now I began to pay closer attention.

Wunderlich's Death Shrine Theory

But thanks to the Queen, a man named H.G. Wunderlich captured our imagination in a special way.

The reason we study the
Palace of Knossos is easy to explain - The Queen is fascinated with the subject.  You see, every other year, the Queen takes Duchesne students on a summer trip to the Mediterranean. Whenever possible, they made a stop in Crete to take a look-see at the Palace of Knossos.  

During the Queen's first visit to Crete, she stumbled upon a strange book called the Secret of Crete written by H.G. Wunderlich.  In his book, Wunderlich stated that Crete was an island that worshipped death.  His dark conclusions read like something out of science fiction, like HG Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau.

first visited the Palace of Knossos in 1970.  He was appalled at what he discovered. Wunderlich found himself completely disagreeing with the more banal findings of Sir EvansWunderlich had a much different and much darker idea as to what the palace was REALLY used for.

In his book
The Secret of Crete, Wunderlich revealed that Knossos had been used as a death shrine.  While visiting the palace, he observed several oddities about the place.

1 - The land was arid. There was no water source near enough to make the location a plausible place to build a palace. Why build your home where there is no water?
2 - The frescoes of people jumping over bulls were absolutely absurd; there was no way anyone would be able to survive leaping over an animal with horns that large.  Was there a darker reason for the bull jumping?
3 - The throne room didn’t look like anything fit for a king or a queen. The rooms were cold, bare stone with a minimum of furniture.  This was not a place where people could live comfortably.  Wunderlich felt that the palace had been used for something very opposite to living - he said it was a place to kill people. 

Apparently for centuries there had been legends among the other Mediterranean civilizations that Crete conducted human sacrifices and was a very sinister place.  The so-called Legend of the Minotaur - King Minos' pet bull that devoured human sacrifices - wasn't just a legend, but rather a reflection of their bizarre culture!  Wunderlich found himself agreeing there probably was something to those terrible legends.

Wunderlich came to the realization that the palace of King Minos was nothing but a necropolis (a city of the dead). This palace had never been intended for the living but rather for the dead.  This was a place where a powerful cult of the dead practiced elaborate human sacrifices, burial rites, and games of death (such as bull jumping).

The Queen explained she thought Wunderlich’s death shrine theory was plausible. The island of Crete is located in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean. To the North is Greece and to the South is Egypt. The Egyptians more than any other culture of the ancient world were obsessed with the dead.  The Egyptians, of course, were constructors of the Great Pyramids and were constantly preoccupied with preparations for the Afterlife.  The most popular God in all of Egypt was Osiris, Lord of the Underworld.

Wunderlich suggested that the Minoans inherited the concept of worshipping the dead from Egyptians who passed through Crete on route to Greece for trade.

The Queen presented us with both sides of the story.  Although I believed she preferred Wunderlich's ideas over Evans, she had done a very good job hiding her own opinion. I was left up to make up my own mind on the subject.  I was very intrigued.

So there it was. The Palace of Knossos was either another ancient ruin tied into Grecian mythology or it was a shrine dedicated to the Minoan dead. I was inclined to agree with Wunderlich.  His idea about the death shrine was well presented.  Besides, don't you agree the idea of an ancient death palace is so much cooler than just another place to dig up a bunch of rocks and relics?

My Visit to the Palace of Knossos

When I learned that our 2008 cruise trip was visiting Crete, I gave a little whoop of excitement. I knew exactly what I wanted to do when the boat docked in Herkalion - visit the Palace of Knossos!  This was the one thing I was most looking forward to on the cruise. I wanted to see if Wunderlich was right.

You can imagine my eagerness the morning we were scheduled to dock in Crete; I woke up at six o’ clock in the morning and promptly got dressed.  I didn’t want to miss this!

Marla, Dad and I made our way down to the cruise ship meeting area in record time. I was ready to make my move. We were handed stickers with number 12 on them.  Dad is not known for fast starts, but he was doing well today.  We were definitely moving faster than usual.

Our group was called; we stood up and followed the sign with our group number on it. We ambled down the steps and hit the departure deck near the bottom of the ship. The door was in sight.  I couldn't wait, so I peeked out and got my first sight of the island.  Let's do it!

Then came an awkward surprise.  Dad was fumbling around with his pockets.  Marla looked to Dad and asked, “Rick, did you forget your SeaPass?

For those of you who haven’t been on a cruise before, the SeaPass is an essential item when going on shore. It is literally your ticket to get on and off the ship. If you don’t have it with you, then you don't leave.

My Dad searched fervently for his SeaPass.  Finally he gave up.  “Marla, I guess I left my SeaPass in the room.”

The look on my face said it all (except that I can't say it until high school is paid for).  A man standing next to Dad informed him that he could have a copy made at the door. Our hearts lightened by the man’s advice, we trudged on and made it to the front of the line.  That turned out to be a waste of five more minutes. 

We were informed that making a pass on the spot was not possible. Dad would either have to find it or go to Guest Relations and have a new one made. This meant he would either have to go up ten decks to his room and search for the pass or go up five decks, wait in the line, and spend a minimum of five minutes watching the personnel make a new card for him.

Dad thought about it for a moment, then decided to go back to his room.  Meanwhile Marla and I stood next to the door, watching passenger after passenger make their way onto the gangway and then to the island. We watched groups twelve, thirteen, fourteen, etc. pass us and saw other SSQQ passengers leave the ship.  I was feeling very impatient.  15, 16, 17.... will Dad please hurry up!   18, 19, 20...

Finally my father reappeared.  There was practically no one left.  We exited the ship right after groups twenty-seven and twenty-eight. We had gone from first to worst.  We were sixteen groups and 30 minutes in the hole.  I was fit to be tied.  I had waited for this all summer and wasn't feeling very patient.

We wandered around the parking lot looking for a bus.  For a moment my heart sank when we couldn't find one.  Fortunately, after Dad spoke with a few different cruise personnel, someone found us three seats on a German-speaking bus to Knossos.  We were fortunate again when the lady offered to add an English translation.  So during the bus ride we would get to learn about the Palace of Knossos not only in English, but also in Deutsch.  Sad to say, due to her heavy German accent, she was unintelligible in both languages.  This day wasn't going very well.

At least we were on the move. After a 30 minute bus ride, we arrived at the Palace of Knossos. The group unloaded and gathered in the plaza for a lecture on the palace. We got a new guide, someone from Crete.  As I listened to the man tell the story of Theseus and Icarus, I also began to look around the site.  Something didn't look right.

This place was very green.  I had been told in class that the Palace was surrounded by dry, unfertile land. Yet I saw tall forests of several different types of trees for miles. I frowned. I suppose climate can change over 3,000 years.

Then our guide started to tell us about the rivers that were located less than a mile from the palace back in the days when it was being used.  They had since dried up.

I became even more confused.  Wunderlich had claimed the palace was 'unlivable' because it had no easy water source.  The Queen had said there was no easy water source around the palace whatsoever.  This was an important point. This wouldn't matter if all you were going to do was to visit it for death rituals.  But if there used to be rivers nearby, this would not support the Wunderlich theory.

I began to worry about this discrepancy.  

As we walked to the next location, I asked several questions.  That is when the tour guide asked me if I had studied the palace before. I told him about the Queen’s avid interest in the place and how she had passed it on to me.  I decided this was the right time to bring up my agenda.

“Have you ever read Wunderlich's The Secret of Crete?”

The guide frowned.  “Yes. But it's not a very popular theory around here… not exactly very academic.

I rolled my eyes. Death Shrine.  I could understand why he said that. What he meant to say was "not a very good theory for tourism".  

The Palace itself was a recreation built by Sir Evans. The history nerd in me loved seeing the palace with my own eyes, but I couldn't shake my disappointed at the guide's put-down. Three years of wonder, mystery and awe had just been crushed in seconds by a total stranger.  My interest in the Death Shrine theory obviously wasn't "fashionable" in this neck of the woods.

I wasn't going to give up that easily.  As we continued through the palace, I asked questions relevant to the Death Shrine theory.  Then I listened as our tour guide dismantled every strong point that Wunderlich really had to go on. "Not exactly very academic" had been his first words to me.  Those words kept ringing in my brain. I frowned as I listened to his point of view on each of Wunderlich's positions that I brought up. 

He wasn't winning me over.  I didn't trust the depth of his knowledge. At the same time, however, I also got the feeling he didn't appreciate being challenged by a teenage girl on his knowledge.  That's when I remembered my father was thrown out of graduate school for arguing with his professors.  I guess I inherited my natural antagonism from Dad.

Bull Leaping

An important component to the so-called "Secret of Crete" was the bull-leaping frescoes.  Throughout the palace there were murals depicting Minoans jumping over bulls. Wunderlich had theorized that because the concept of bull-leaping was so preposterous as a sport that these frescoes were painted to glorify the death of human sacrifices forced to fight the bulls.

As my guide went on and on about the ancient "sport" of bull-jumping, I found his explanations preposterous.  The thought of anyone WILLING to try to do somersaults over these giant bulls was ridiculous, why couldn't anyone see that?   But our guide droned on and on.  He seemed convinced that people actually trained to become bull jumpers.  Sounded like a lot of bull to me...

As far I was concerned, a much better explanation for the bull dancing in the art works would be youths sacrificed to their death.  To my mind, the Romans made their captives face sure death as gladiators and the Minoans made their captives face sure death by being thrown into an arena with a massive bull.  Anyone who has ever seen a "the running of the bulls" in Spain knows that bulls often toss their victims straight up in the air.  That is a far better explanation for this picture!

But not so if you listen to the guide.  He explained to us that paintings of Minoans teaching Egyptians how to bull-leap had been found in Egypt. While this discovery proved the link between the Minoans and the Egyptians, it also killed one of my best hopes for Wunderlich.  Unless the Minoans were trying to teach the Egyptians how to die via being impaled by bull horns, then the bull fresco theory was out of the window.

The Throne Room

Finally, there was the throne room.  It was my last hope. I clung to it for dear life. Maybe Wunderlich would be vindicated at last.  He had theorized that the throne room was so eerie, so threadbare and uncomfortable, that there was no way a living person would see this room as something fit for a king. Because I had seen pictures, I had faith in this aspect of Wunderlich's theory.  Now I wanted pictures of my own to prove my point.

The throne room was obviously a popular place, because there was a line of people fifty deep. I looked around, staring at the "dry and arid" land with a veritable forest around it.  Something was missing.  Uh, make that 'somebody' was missing.

Where was Dad?  I needed the camera and he had it!

Two minutes ago, Dad had asked me for the camera so he could take some pictures. I assumed he was following the group, but now there was no sight of him. I sighed heavily as the line slowly began to get close to the Throne Room!  My heart was set upon getting pictures of the Throne Room to help prove Wunderlich's theory, but my father had disappeared with the valuable camera.  I was so frustrated!

Mind you, this is not an uncommon occurrence. Traveling with Dad usually results in some twisted form of the game "Where's Waldo?"  Dad likes to wander around separate from the group.  But since he usually finds his way back, I tend to not worry about him. However, this time it was a problem since he had the camera.

I wanted to take pictures and he wasn't here.  I looked in the direction we had come from. No luck.  Finally, I saw him walk past the entrance to the courtyard we stood in. Good, he's back. But then I noticed he was walking in the wrong direction.  That meant the camera was going in the wrong direction as well.  I worried about losing my place in line, but what choice did I have?  I ran to get him.

I told Dad I needed the camera, but I may have raised my voice a bit.  More than a few heads turned to look at me as Dad and I returned.  That is when I realized I had become a spectacle for our group.  Oh well, at least I had the camera. I plucked the camera from his hands and got back in line. Problem averted.

A few minutes passed.  It was time for the main event. I needed a drumroll. A grand entrance. Something.  The trouble with life is there's no background music. I resorted to playing the Jaws theme song over and over in my head.  bump bump bump bump.

As I got my first look, I felt a wash of relief pass over me. This was the ugliest room I had ever seen!  The Throne itself was not only ugly, this chair was definitely uncomfortable-looking.  It went at a ninety-degree angle along the wall. Had I been the queen, this would not have been something I would've liked to sit in. The walls were adorned with frescoes of griffins, mythological creatures known to protect the divine.

Yes!  Wunderlich had been right about this.  This room was not designed with comfort in mind.  But the guide's negativity had gotten to me.  Who in the world was I kidding?  Wunderlich's death shrine theory wasn't doing very well.  I was beginning to wonder if the man had been a downright phony. 

After we got on the bus and left, I thought about the day.  This place didn't strike me as evil.  I found myself growing skeptical at the whole concept of the Palace of Knossos as a death shrine. Some of the facts didn't match up.  Wunderlich had some interesting points, but they weren't anything he could prove. 

Regardless of whether Wunderlich man was a fake or not, I definitely owe my interest in the Palace to the man. His outlandish theories captured my imagination. He generated enough interest in a then-fourteen-year-old to last for three years. That's a much larger accomplishment than most adults might realize.  Inspiring a sense of academic inquiry into a 14 year old kid is a good thing, albeit a rare and fleeting thing. 

And even if I was disappointed by what my own eyes told me today, I was at least pleased to have my chance to play at being a junior archeologist. 

Thanks for reading, Samantha Archer

Theseus slays the Minotaur

Icarus flies too close to the sun, the heat melts the wax on his wings, and he plummets to his death in the sea below

Here's the book that inspired me to look for signs
of human sacrifice in every corner of the Palace!

A look at today's Palace of Knossos from above


The Throne Room at Knossos

The Three Queens.  Could one of them have been Mrs. Hungerford in a previous lifetime?

Here is the Throne Room. It was indeed very uncomfortable-looking and unimpressive.  Certainly not what you would expect for royalty.  Doesn't have that lived-in look, now does it? 

 Wunderlich's Death Shrine Theory postulated the Throne Room was so barren that no royalty would dream of using this area to actually do spend any leisure time.  Instead Wunderlich suggested this was the area where the King sat during the death rituals.

However our guide said this theory was preposterous.  Furthermore he refused to go anywhere near the deep pits where the men were said to be placed as they awaited to be sacrificed or to participate in death games. . 

As you can see for yourself, this feat appears extremely dangerous.  It suggests male and female dancers would confront the bull.  Then by grasping the bull by its sacred horns, they would permit themselves to be tossed in the air, somersaulting over its back to alight behind it.

Well, what do you think?  Do you think bull jumping was a real sport?  Or was it a sick death game where captives were forced to participate against giant bulls? 

Including the Minotaur story, the Minoans had bulls on the brain. There were Bull frescoes everywhere at the Palace. I don't know the answer to the Bull Jumping theory, but there were pictures of Bulls everywhere.  These bulls were definitely a major part of the culture, at least that much is clear.  The question is whether Bull Jumping was a suicidal sport or human sacrifice.

Hans Wunderlich was a geologist by training.  One reason he suggested the Palace was built merely as a place of human sacrifice was the lack of a nearby water supply.  Why build a palace where there was no water unless you didn't intend to live in the place?   However, as you can see modern day Knossos is surrounded by foliage and crops that are clearly being watered somehow.



Rick Archer's Note: 
My daughter Sam spoke of me wandering around during our time at Knossos.  She is right, of course, I do stray from the group.  What Sam doesn't know is that I wander for a reason. 

You see, while my intrepid daughter scoured the Palace looking for evidence to prove Wunderlich's hypothesis that its main purpose was to conduct morbid death rituals, I had an agenda of my own.  I wanted to see evidence of the Labyrinth's existence!  If the Palace of Knossos was supposed to have 1300 maze-like compartments or as many as fifteen hundred rooms on multi-levels, then where were they?

Sorry to say, I didn't find any hint of a maze.  Or did I?  The picture above was interesting. 

Wouldn't you say those parallel corridors are oddly maze-like? 

Wikipedia speaks of the Knossos Labyrinth in these terms:

The Cretan labyrinth had been a dancing-ground.  In the Iliad, Homer claims that it was made for Ariadne rather than for Minos. Apparently among the patterns that Hephaestus inscribed on Achilles' shield, one incident pictured was a dancing-ground "like the one that Daedalus designed in the spacious town of Knossos for Ariadne of the lovely locks."

Even the labyrinth dance was depicted on the shield, where "youths and marriageable maidens were dancing on it with their hands on one another's wrists... circling as smoothly on their accomplished feet as the wheel of a potter...and there they ran in lines to meet each other."

Using the twine given to him by Princess Ariadne,
Theseus is able to decipher the complex maze

This article on Knossos has been a collaboration between my daughter Sam and me. 

I thought Sam did a great job. After I finished reading her story, I got very interested in reading more about the mystery myself.  So before I published this article, I decided to do a little snooping of my own on the Internet.  I found all sorts of interesting articles to visit.  Here are four of my favorites:

Knossos  (RA Note - The Best Place to Start!  A quick and concise presentation of the Knossos story.)

The Knossos labyrinth  By Rodney Castleden  (RA Note - This is a book about Knossos you can read it on the Internet.  The author has several good things to say about Wunderlich)

Crete, The Palace of Knossos, The Labyrinth And The Myth by Jane Buckman

The Legacy of Sir Arthur Evans - a less flattering look at Sir Evans

Truth About Knossos?  - May 1960 article in Time Magazine

Here are some of the random thoughts that crossed my mind.

1) I couldn't find the evidence that Evans used to prove the Palace of Knossos had anything to King Minos himself.  Perhaps there were writings found on the premises that when translated connected Minos to this location, but nothing I read bothered to point this out.

2) I couldn't find any evidence that an actual Labyrinth has ever been discovered at Knossos!  The jury is still out on this important subject.

3) There seems to be a lot of controversy swirling about regarding Sir Arthur Evans' integrity.

For example, a biographer of Sir Arthur Evans, Joseph MacGillivray, had this to say about him:

"Evans was arrogant, self-assured, bigoted, single-minded, prone to hyperbole, and quick to judgment. His opinions, once formed, rarely wavered.

MacGillivray goes on to add:

"Evans's evidence was "fully, even exaggeratedly exploited" but rarely reviewed. Adventurous, energetic, and highly observant, Evans also displayed "single-minded arrogance," "pomposity and manifest racism"-- traits that invited misinterpretation"

In Joseph MacGillivray's opinion,

"finding proof in the dirt is the final stage of a process of wish fulfillment", therefore, in Evans' world, everything Evans dug up confirmed the theories he desired to believe.

Furthermore, In a 2000 article titled Labyrinths and Bull-Leapers written for Archeology magazine, MacGillivray wrote this about Evans.

Labyrinths and Bull-Leapers

Volume 53 Number 6, November/December 2000
by J. Alexander MacGillivray

In judging everything he found at Knossos to be indigenous, the British antiquarian Sir Arthur Evans misguided generations of Minoan scholars.

Every year more than a million visitors wander through the maze of walls and low foundations at the Minoan palace of Knossos in Crete, where tour guides recount an elaborate tale passed on from the ancient Greeks. It is the story of King Minos and the monstrous Minotaur, who fed on a yearly tribute of seven Athenian youths and maidens until the hero Theseus slew him. The Minotaur, we are told, had a man's body and bull's head and was confined in a dark maze designed by the architect Daedalus, who, fleeing from Minos, escaped Crete with his son Icarus on wings crafted from beeswax and feathers.

How did the labyrinth and this fantastic cast of characters become associated with one of the world's most famous archaeological monuments? One can blame the British antiquarian Sir Arthur Evans. Educated at Harrow and Oxford, Evans had a mediocre career in journalism and as curator of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, before going to Crete in 1894 to find the truth behind the legend of the sinister Minotaur.
Six years later, he excavated what he thought was the labyrinth, declaring it was also the palace of King Minos, a clear example of how an archaeological discovery may be no more than wish fulfillment.

A rich man's son, Evans had set out to find the origin of European civilization, which he felt was linked to the origin of the Greeks. As he joined the modern Cretans in their struggle to throw off the Ottoman Turkish yoke, Evans made invidious comparisons between the free and independent spirit he observed in Minoan art and the monotonous style he saw in Ottoman and ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian art.

Ever since the Turkish withdrawal from Crete in 1898,
the ancient Minoans have remained hostage to Evans' various presuppositions. For example, he insisted the Minoans had been free of all outside influence, even though he was the one who discovered archaeological evidence for strong Egyptian and Mycenaean Greek presences at Knossos. This attitude ensured that he would never be able to read the abundant clay tablets he unearthed there. He refused to consider the possibility that the tablets were written in an early form of Greek, as the English epigrapher Michael Ventris would later show, insisting that the Greeks didn't arrive in Crete until after the decline of Minos and his kin. Evans and other early twentieth-century excavators searched for and found in the Minoans the origins of Hellenic culture because the Christian Greek majority then in control of the island needed historical support for their desired unity with Greece, which eventually came about in 1913.

Modern students and practitioners of Aegean archaeology must come to grips with the extent to which Evans prejudged everything he found at Knossos during his 30-year excavation. Once the trappings of his mythical agenda are removed, we will have to re-evaluate a large body of artifacts in light of recent discoveries in the Levant, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Crete.

J. Alexander MacGillivray currently co-directs with L.H. Sackett the British School at Athens excavations at Palaikastro in eastern Crete. He is the author of Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000).


My own conclusion?  After my own admitted superficial probe into the facts, I still have no idea whether Wunderlich or Evans is correct.  However, I will admit that just like my daughter Sam, I am pretty taken by Wunderlich's "Palace of Death" theory.  Wunderlich brought up some very interesting points that are not easily dismissed no matter what Sam's guide said.

The only thing I am certain of is that I envy my daughter Sam immensely for her time spent in Mrs. Hungerford's class.  Teachers who can inspire students to
really think are a wonderful influence for our children.  I had teachers like this in my life, so I am gratified to see that Sam's natural curiosity has been stoked as well.  What more can a parent hope for during a child's education?  The greatest gift from my daughter's education at Duchesne is this solid evidence that Sam has learned to ask questions and explore complexities.

In parting, if you read the Wikipedia writeup on Sir Arthur Evans, he is depicted as the ultimate authority on Knossos.  As for Wunderlich, he doesn't even have a Wikipedia write-up for comparison.

By presenting both sides of this archeological mystery, Mrs. Hungerford appears to have found a way to demonstrate to her girls that the first article you read on the Internet doesn't necessarily mean it is completely true.  If her students learned no other lesson than this, she still accomplished a miracle.


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