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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in archaeology
Minoan Artifacts: Where are the baskets?

One aspect of ancient Egyptian archaeology that I've always enjoyed is that the dry climate of the Nile valley and the surrounding desert preserved biodegradable items like clothing and baskets (and mummies, obviously!). Unfortunately, the Aegean isn't dry - it's a portion of the Mediterranean Sea dotted with islands. So sadly, on Crete and Thera (modern Santorini) most of the biodegradable artifacts have long since rotted away.

But that doesn't mean the situation is hopeless. There are other ways to discover what kinds of biodegradable objects the Minoans had.

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Kamares Ware: A glimpse into Bronze Age religion, craft, and trade

You may have heard of Kamares ware - the beautiful polychrome (multicolored) pottery produced in the Minoan temple at Phaistos during the Bronze Age. But did you know that this type of vessel gives us a window into the lives of the ancient Minoans?

Kamares ware was incredibly popular and was produced for centuries, from about 2100 to 1450 BCE. Its bold red and white designs on a black background remind me of the folkloric dinnerware that was popular in the 1960s and 70s:

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Minoan Trickle-Down Archaeology

Sir Arthur Evans believed that the huge building at Knossos was the legendary King Minos' palace and the big buildings in the other Minoan cities were the palaces of Minos' brothers and rivals. A century later, the signs at most of the Minoan sites still identify these buildings as palaces despite the fact that Evans' theories have been discredited and archaeologists now agree that the structures were temple complexes, not palaces.

A few archaeologists are notorious for taking their students through museums and pointing out the inaccuracies on the placards that describe Minoan artifacts (museum curators are not usually archaeologists and don't always communicate with archaeologists about the artifacts on display). So people visit the museums and come away with some incorrect notions.

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From my mound, I will bless you.”

 

As the excavations at Cadbury castle—reputedly the site of Camelot—were about to begin in 1964, the archaeologists were met by a local, an old man who had lived nearby all his life.

“Have you come to dig up the king?” he asked, anxiously.

 

The royal Ship Burial at Sutton Hoo has long deserved its own epic, and now—in its own understated, very East Anglian way—it has one.

John Preston's The Dig is a shining, masterful novel, but—speaking as a pagan—I can't deny that it raises some difficult issues.

The discoveries at Sutton Hoo have enriched our knowledge of the ancestors and their ways immeasurably, and for this I'm deeply grateful, but it can't be denied that excavating the Royal Mound there also destroyed something sacred, and very important.

Though reconstructed to its original profile, overlooking the River Deben, the Royal Mound now stands empty, stripped of its kingly treasure.

 

I think of the head of Bran, buried to ward the coasts of Britain.

I think of how Arthur is said, in his arrogance, to have removed it, and what befell thereafter.

 

The Museo del Oro in Bogotá, Columbia, displays the breathtakingly intricate goldwork images of the ancient Tairona: golden plants, animals, and people.

But the mamas—shamans—of the Kogi, the last surviving cultural heirs of the Tairona, are dismayed by the excavation and display of these objects. Each one was buried, they say, with full intent: as an offering, a prayer, a talisman. That golden ear of corn in the display case was originally a gift to Earth Mother herself, intended to enrich the fertility of the fields. Torn from its proper context, denied its due offerings, what now is to become of the crop?

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I'm not going to write your Minoan history paper for you

I regularly get social media messages from people - mostly high school and college students - who have questions about the ancient Minoans. I'm always happy to point people toward accurate, up-to-date resources, since so many websites continue to perpetuate outdated information (a great deal of what Sir Arthur Evans supposed about the Minoans turned out to be wrong).

But I'm not going to write your paper for you.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The History of Magic

I was delighted to take part in a discussion on the BBC  of the history of magic from a variety of perspectives. While our remit was broad (all of time!) we did try to bring up some specific examples from our respective areas of expertise. Of course that meant that I had a chance to talk about both medieval magic and Leonora Carrington.

Give it a listen here.

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"Don't believe everything you read on the Internet" - King Minos

I love the Internet. There's so much information so readily available. It's such a contrast to my early days of researching the Minoans, back in the 1970s and 80s, when I had to scratch and scrabble for a sentence here, a paragraph there, in books about other ancient cultures. But that ease of access to the online world comes with a price.

Anyone can put up a website and say anything they want to in it. That's good; freedom of speech and expression is something I'm all for. The problem comes when websites repeat outdated and inaccurate information, either because the writer doesn't know any better or because they have a theory they want to prove. Of course, this sort of thing happens in books as well, but it's more common online, simply because it's easier to put up a website than to publish a book.

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