Impressions of Knossos

In my last post, I talked about how John Pendlebury was captivated by the culture, countryside, and the people of Crete and so last week I finally had the opportunity to experience this myself by visiting the island and staying at the famous ‘Taverna’.

The ‘Taverna’, named after a Turkish taverna originally located on the lower floor of the building during the 19th century, is now part of the premises of the BSA Knossos Research Centre. An extension of the building in 1928 provided accommodation to female students, who were not allowed to stay at the Villa Ariadne, and was completed after 1933, on the advice of Ralph Lavers, John Pendlebury’s architect at Tel Amarna. During my stay at the Taverna, and thanks to the guidance of Dr. Kostis Christakis, the current Knossos Curator, I was able to see the excellent work the Knossos Research Centre is doing in Crete, and learn about the history of the Villa Ariadne and the Knossos Estate, acquired by Sir Arthur Evans in 1899 and transferred to the BSA in 1926. I also found out more about the work carried out by John Pendlebury when he was Curator at Knossos between 1930 and 1934.

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The Taverna at Knossos (May 2018)

The Knossos Curator post was created by Sir Arthur Evans in 1926 as he wanted to have a resident supervisor on the site. The first Curator was Duncan Mackenzie (1926-1929), followed by John Pendlebury in 1930. John was only 25 years old when he was appointed, but he already had substantial experience as an archaeologist at his excavations in Egypt. He also made a number of important changes in the centre such as setting up the first library in Knossos with a donated spare copy of his own book,  Aegyptiaca, as the first volume in the library. The rest of books for this first phase of the library were purchased with a donation of £50 by Sir Arthur Evans. John also established the first ‘Stratigraphical Museum’ at Knossos after organising and dating 2,000 boxes of pottery sherds found in excavations over the years and stored in the Palace of Knossos.

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‘Aegyptiaca: A Catalogue of Egyptian Objects in the Aegean Sea’. Volume donated to the BSA Knossos Research Centre Library by John Pendlebury.

While in Knossos, I was fortunate enough to visit the ‘new’ Stratigraphical Museum, which was established in 1962. This building, placed over Pendlebury´s old tennis court, houses an immense collection of archaeological finds from the Knossos Valley and is currently being catalogued into EMu (Electronic Museum Collection Management System) by Danae Lange, Knossos Curatorial Manager, and Helen Makrygiorgou, Knossos Curatorial Assistant. Danae kindly took the time to tell me about the cataloguing procedures for the objects in the Stratigraphical Museum. This was a very interesting learning experience for me because, even though, we both use the same software to catalogue, the methodology in arranging archaeological and archival material is very different. Categorizations are applied differently to objects and paper based collections. However, we also face similar problems and challenges, like agreeing on the standardization of geographical place names when these names are not only in two different languages but also transliterated into several versions. Basically, we both have the same final aim in our work which is to offer to researchers as much information as possible about the collections. In this sense, EMu has immense potential because it links several collections of diverse type (archival, archaeological, and bibliographical catalogues) into the same platform creating a very dynamic tool.

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Pottery boxes kept at the ‘new’ Stratigraphical Museum at the BSA Knossos Research Centre.
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Photograph of the old tennis court at the Villa Ariadne, Knossos, Crete [PEN 7/2/5/311]. Copyright: British School at Athens.

My trip to Crete wasn’t limited to Knossos. I traveled to the south of the island, inspired by one of John Pendlebury’s itineraries. It was wonderful to finally see, in person, the very familiar landscapes I’ve got to know over the last months through the photographs in the collection. I also visited the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion and admired the pieces found at the Karphi excavations by John Pendlebury’s team. These pieces are mostly present in Series 4 (Excavation records for excavations in Crete) within the archival collection.

Traveling to Crete has helped me to understand John Pendlebury and his collection better. I can see very clearly now why he was so captivated by the island, and why, coinciding with the anniversary of his death in the battle of Crete this week, he decided to join forces with the allies to protect Crete against the Nazi invasion.

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Photograph of John Pendlebury posing with fencing swords at the Villa Ariadne, Knossos, Crete [PEN 7/2/5/248]. Copyright: British School at Athens
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