About the research project
Over 100 years ago, Arthur Evans excavated the palace of Knossos on the island of Crete and uncovered a Bronze Age culture he would call “Minoan”. He saw Minoan Crete as the first European civilization, a modern, religious, and imperialistic society, ruled by Priest-Kings and presided over by a Goddess. Evans used the objects he collected and excavated on Crete to inform and demonstrate this vision, which he presented in numerous publications, through displays in the Ashmolean Museum, and in the reconstructions at Knossos. Evans’s vision has remained hugely influential in both the academic and public reception of Bronze Age Crete. By re-examining it, this project will enable us to contextualise and question our current understanding of the Minoans.
The Ashmolean Museum’s Aegean Collection holds over 10,000 objects, many of which were acquired through Evans, alongside a considerable collection of his correspondence, illustrations and photographs, notebooks, and drafts, held in the Sir Arthur Evans Archive. By bringing together these unique resources with Evans’s publications, this project will assess the development and legacy of his vision, particularly his ideas of Minoan religion and the “Mother Goddess” and how they were influenced by Minoan plant iconography. By identifying specific objects in the Ashmolean’s collection and the examples Evans uses in his published and unpublished material, we will be able to identify how the Ashmolean collection has directly contributed to both Evans’s and our own understanding of Minoan religion. This also provides a brilliant opportunity to review and enhance the collections and archive catalogues in the museum for future researchers and the wider public.