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How Greek Archaeologist Minos Kalokairinos Discovered Knossos

Knossos, Crete, discovered by Minos Kalokairinos
Knossos, Crete, discovered by Minos Kalokairinos. Credit: paula_mcmillen. CC BY-2.0/flickr

The Palace of Knossos on Crete was discovered by amateur Greek archaeologist Minos Kalokairinos, who, upon uncovering its treasures, strived to hide it from the then-ruling Ottoman Empire.

Popular belief would have it that Sir Arthur Evans, the then-keeper of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, discovered the site which once excavated, revealed the palace of Knossos. However, this is not true.

According to the University of Crete Library, the site was owned by Andreas Kalokairinos, Minos’s father, who, after passing away, left his soap manufacturing business to his two sons along with ownership of the site.

Excavations began in 1877 on Kephala Hill, though these were only partial attempts. Minos Kalokairinos was indulged in his legal studies and business work until his family’s inherited business went bust in 1895.

According to a history report published in Greek, titled “Minos Kalokairinos: The man who led the steps of Evans,” full scale archaeological excavation came about in 1878. This revealed the first hard evidence that Knossos, the center of ancient Minoan civilization, could be located there. This discovery attracted worldwide interest.

According to French historian Bernard Haussoullier, Ottoman authorities who controlled the island forced Kalokairinos to stop excavations three weeks after the major find. However, he did manage to discover storage rooms and a corner piece of the throne hall in the west wing of the palace.

The Throne Room in Knossos, Crete, partly discovered by Minos Kalokairinos
The Throne Room in Knossos, Crete, partly discovered by Minos Kalokairinos. Credit: neilalderney123 CC BY 2.0 flickr

Andrew Shapland, Sir Arthur Evans Curator of Bronze Age and Classical Greece at the Ashmolean Museum, tells the story differently. He claims it was actually Kalokairinos’ fellow Cretans who stopped the excavation to prevent finds from being taken to the Ottoman capital of Constantinople.

Giorgos Tzorakis, author of A New Guide to the Palace of Knossos, says news of Kalokairinos’ discoveries aroused interest in many other archaeologists, including W.J. Stillman, Heinrich Schliemann, and Sir Arthur Evans, who ultimately excavated the whole palace once the island gained independence from Ottoman rule.

Kalokairinos’ Collection From Knossos

Kalokairinos had a sizeable collection of artifacts which he found during the excavation, according to historian Olivier Masson.

Tzorakis explains that during the violent events of August 25, 1898, when the Ottomans did their best to squash the Cretan revolt, Kalokairinos’ home was pillaged and burnt. His collection was hence heavily damaged. Only the rarest objects, which Kalokairinos had the sense to keep separate, survived.

These rarer objects were amphoras discovered in the western wing of the palace. He later donated them to museums in Greece, Paris, and London to spread public interest in the Knossos site.

The University of Oxford states that at the height of its powers, Knossos boasted impressive luxury goods—including ivory, semi-precious stones, gold, alabaster, and ostrich eggs—monumental architectural complexes, writing, colorful frescoes depicting processions and dancing, and knowledge of craft specializations among other things.

Furthermore, it possessed strong Aegean trade networks and shipping capabilities.

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