Arthur Evans - Archaeologist & Philanthropist

Sir Arthur Evans (1851 – 1941) is a significant person in the history and development of the British School at Athens because he is responsible for the close connection of the School to the archaeological site of Knossos in Crete, where the School continues to have a base and a curator. Evans was a British archaeologist and a pioneer of the study of Aegean civilization in the Bronze Age and he was the first to define Linear A and Linear B Cretan scripts. Evans’ work at Knossos was controversial even in his own time, chiefly because of the restoration work he did on the Knossos site. Importantly for the British School at Athens, Arthur Evans bought the land on which he excavated at Knossos, drove excavation and research there and had both the Villa Ariadne (named after legendary Cretan King Minos’ daughter Ariadne, who helped Theseus escape from the Minotaur) and the Taverna built to facilitate archaeological excavation.

He donated the site and its land and buildings to the School in 1924. Even though the site was eventually handed over to the Greek Government, the British School at Athens continues its close association with the site including maintaining the Knossos Research Centre and the Knossos Stratigraphical Museum.

Before his archaeological work at Knossos, Arthur Evans had had a wide-ranging but essentially classics-driven career as a journalist, government agent and Keeper at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, which he transformed into a mostly archaeological museum, and he travelled extensively. After the death of his beloved wife Margaret Freeman in 1893 when Evans was 43, he became interested in Crete and the idea that it had had “ a prehistoric system of writing” and the beginning speculations about the site at Knossos.

Before Margaret’s death he had travelled to Greece on a number of occasions including when he and Margaret met the Mycenaean and Troy excavator Heinrich Schliemann and an occasion just before her death when he found some Cretan seals with mysterious writing in the Athens flea markets with John Myres, then a student at the BSA.

For the rest of his life, Evans dedicated himself to excavating at and around Knossos, which he first saw in spring, 1894, and to maintaining his estate, Youlbury, at Boar’s Hill near Oxford where he would entertain his family, scholars, archaeologists and dignitaries. Arthur Evans was born in Hertfordshire, England, the first child of John Evans and Harriet Dickinson. His mother died when he was only 7 but he maintained a very close relationship with his family all his life, including his indomitable father John Evans and his half-sister Joan Evans, an art historian. He grew up in an atmosphere of learning and social service and was formally educated at Harrow School and the Universities of Oxford and Göttingen and was knighted in 1911 for his services to archaeology.

Artist’s Note: Evans, as some might know, is already in the Lego Classicists Family but this exhibition is not about inducting new members into the family but about the Lego Classicist engaging and interpreting the greater BSA history and story, so I, of course, had to bring Evans into the 12 because of the important role he played. This LEGO portrait is a new one and is directly inspired by the photo of Evans in the BSA archive. In the original photo, you can see he is older than the days when he made his famous discoveries but he still has his youthful, enthusiastic smile.