Before any excavations were undertaken on the site of Knossos, knowledge of the Bronze Age Cretan culture was very limited, reflected only in a few classical Greek myths. Although Sir Arthur Evans would become the most famous excavator of Knossos, he was not the first. In 1878, a Herakleion merchant named Minos Kalokairinos uncovered the foundations of store rooms filled with pithos jars, which were identified as coming from the west magazine of the palace of Knossos. Unfortunately, the Kalokairinos excavation was put to a halt by Turkish landowners, ceasing any further progress on the site until the arrival of Sir Arthur Evans, whose excavations would lead to the discovery of a previously unknown civilization: the Minoans.
Evans first arrived in Crete in 1894 to study sets of unknown Cretan hieroglyphs, and due to Crete’s victory in gaining independence from Turkey in 1899, used part of his family inheritance to buy a portion of land in Crete. Evans began a 4-year basic excavation of the site in 1900, which led to the discovery of Knossos. By the end of 1903, Evans had uncovered many of the foundations for the palace of Knossos. To protect the remains from the weather, which the remains were being exposed to for the first time in 3,500 years, Evans would spend the rest of his life preserving his finds. Restorations and reconstructions of the walls were often done by using reinforced concrete and timber frames painted in a pink or matching color. Even the mighty frescoes for which the site is famous for were found as nothing more than tiny, fragmented pieces before being restored by Evans and his team. However, there have been critics of Evans’s methods of restoration, citing the use of materials foreign to the Minoans among other complaints.
The legend of the labyrinth, of which the site is most famously remembered as the setting of this Greek myth, is one of the many Greek tales which Evans used as inspiration for his naming of the enigmatic civilization. It was from these inspirations that Evans postulated the site as the palace of the mythical king Minos, suggesting that the complex structure and design of the site represents its mythical home as the Labyrinth, reinforced by the prominence of double-axe-shaped symbols found (known as a “labrys”).
In addition to his groundbreaking discovery of the site itself, Evans excavated just about 3000 ancient Linear A and Linear B stone writing tablets. The language of Linear A is proposed to be a Minoan script and remains much of a mystery, while Linear B proved to be a Greek writing variation from later Mycenaean rule. While the story of Knossos as the site of the mythical Labyrinth may be disputed, it is the imagination and determination of Arthur Evans that led to this debate even existing, and offered mankind a new, previously unknown chapter in our ever-expanding story.