TOAs we move, burdened but determined, toward more enlightened times, history and historiography are having a moment. The best known of those seeking to unravel the idea that history is written by winners, and that winners tend to be fairly homogeneous, are David Olusoga and Mary Beard. But Janina Ramirez comes from the inside.
His new Raiders of the Lost Past (BBC Two) series begins with an account of the discovery of the Palace of Knossos in Crete by Sir Arthur Evans that emphasizes how much easier it was to do this kind of thing when you were a very, very rich white man. born in all advantages in the middle of the 19th century in the land where the sun never sets. If you don’t believe this to be true, or if this point undermines Arthur’s accomplishments and his ilk, then we’ll have to talk later and more at length than a 500-word TV review will allow. In the meantime, take comfort in the fact that there is still a primetime show from 2021 on him on one of the major streaming channels, and relax.
Evans beat several competitors in the race to obtain a license to excavate and spent the next 30 years unearthing evidence that showed that ancient Greek civilization had begun a thousand years earlier than previously thought. And he discovered a forgotten and completely unknown culture, called it Minoan, which preceded even ancient Greece. He wrote it all in a six-volume series, and that was it. History made!
Except that was then, this is now, and a lot has happened in between. And a lot of that has been deconstructing what the Victorians thought they knew and wrote to teach others. It has been noted, for example, that Evans’s records completely omit the fact that a man named Minos Kalokairinos had shown him the finds from excavations at Knossos that had taken place 20 years before he got there, who hoped to use them. to improve the controversial relations between Crete and mainland Greece.
It has also been noted that once everything is not seen through a Christian monarchical lens, the 1,000-room network looks much less like a palace or temple and much more like an administration center for the thriving commercial empire that the Minoans. And that the art unearthed suggests that their society was, and if this is still hard to believe now, it was inconceivable to Arthur, one who considered women to be perhaps totally equal to men. I know. Dig THAT.
Only now are archaeologists beginning to literally piece together all the evidence from Evans’ excavations that he ignored. The little things, not the thrones and frescoes, but the things that show us how ordinary people lived, worked, and spent time.
Ramírez’s unforced enthusiasm and willingness to tamp down his own knowledge and let the experts do the talking came to light in this section as he was shown one of the small clay vessels used and discarded by the hundreds and marveled, as anyone must, by 4000 year old fingerprint left by potter. Evans considered them as disposable and insignificant as their original owners did. What wonders he must have overlooked and, as a result, denied us all. Winners make so many losers.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism