excavator of Knossos, Crete, and preeminent scholar of the Cretan Bronze Age. The son of antiquarian-industrialist Sir John Evans, Arthur was educated at Harrow and Brasenose College, Oxford, where he read history and graduated In 1874. He became involved in Balkan politics as a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. As a champion of the Slavic independence movement, Evans carried out archaeological researches, later published in his “Antiquarian Researches in Illyricum” In 1885–1886. He became keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, In 1884.
Evans's involvement with Crete began In 1894 when he traveled the island in search of seal stones bearing “pre-Phoenician” script, which he published in the Journal of Hellenic Studies (1894, 1897); the journeys are recorded in letters to The Academy. During this time he identified remains of the “Minoan” civilization suspected to be earlier than the Mycenaeans of Greece and bought the tell called Tou Tseleve he Kephala (the headland or bluff of the local Turkish landowner) near the classical Greek and Roman remains of Knossos, where others had found traces of pre-Hellenic antiquities. He excavated at a number of sites in the Knossos valley during large-scale intensive campaigns from 1900 to 1905. Evans concentrated his efforts, however, on the tell that had covered the successive phases of the complex architectural remains called the “Palace of Minos” after the legendary ruler of Crete. Detailed preliminary reports on the palace appeared in the Annual of the British School at Athens (7–11 [1901–1905]), and final reports on late cemetery sites in the region were published in Archaeologia In 1905.
The stratigraphy at Knossos formed the basis for Evans's proposed tripartite relative chronological sequence for the Cretan Bronze Age, which he called Early, Middle, and Late Minoan with further tripartite subdivisions. His Minoan scheme was adapted for the neighboring Cycladic islands and Greek mainland and remains the most useful relative chronology for the Aegean Bronze in the absence of absolute dates.
Evans's re-creation of the Bronze Age Cretans, whom he called “Minoans,” is set out in the rambling chapters of The Palace of Minos, published in four volumes between 1921 and 1935. Initially conceived as the final report on his work at Knossos, it became a widely ranging synthesis of archaeological research in the Aegean and the leading role Evans felt the Minoans to have played. There can be little doubt that Evans was very intuitive, but his preoccupation with associating the early Cretans with the later Greeks and thus modern Europeans led to the frequent use of Greek myths as possible explanations for the early Cretan iconography without full consideration of Near Eastern and Anatolian possibilities. Nonetheless, The Palace of Minos remains the most influential and basic source for students of the Aegean Bronze Age.
The first biography of Evans, Time and Chance: The Story of Arthur Evans and his Forebears, was published by his half-sister, Joan Evans, In 1943; a second, The Find of a Lifetime: Sir Arthur Evans and the Discovery of Knossos, by Sylvia Horwitz appeared In 1981. Neither was critical of Evans's work.
- Evans, Arthur. “Antiquarian Researches in Illyricum, I–II and III–IV.” Archaeologia 48 (1885): 1–105, 49 (1886): 1–167.
- Evans, Arthur. Cretan Pictographs and Prae-Phoenician Script. London, 1895.
- Evans, Arthur. The Prehistoric Tombs of Knossos. London, 1906.
- Evans, Arthur. The Palace of Minos. 4 vols. in 6. London, 1921–1935.
- Evans, Joan. Time and Chance: The Story of Arthur Evans and His Forebears. London, 1943.
- Horwitz, Sylvia. The Find of a Lifetime: Sir Arthur Evans and the Discovery of Knossos. London, 1981.
J. Alexander MacGillivray