In the series The emergence of Man, Time-Life has edited this book, The Lost World of the Aegean by Maitland A. Edey (ASIN: B000SZQWW2) in the mid-1970s but the subject and the results achieved are still very current.
At the time of my purchase, I was introduced to the Minoan civilization which is nicely developed and pictured in this book. In fact, the package offers much more than this slice of the history of mankind and is a wonderful introduction to the history of the Greek people and their origins. There are many theories but nobody really knows who the people were who would become the Greeks, where they came from or when they arrived. In his book, Maitland Edey refers to a great study made by a British archaeologist specialized in the Bronze Age Aegean and more specifically the Cyclades, Colin Refrew.
The thorough study based mainly of shards of pottery has lead to dividing those early ages into three distinct periods:
- The Early Bronze Age (3000-2000 BC) with a parallel comparison of Early Cycladic, Minoan and Helladic vessels;
- The Middle Bronze Age (2000-1500 BC) with a similar comparison between Middle Cycladic, Minoan and Helladic; and finally
- The Late Bronze Age (1500-1100 BC), showing parallels between Late Cycladic, Minoan and Hellenic which is also known as Mycenaean
The Bronze Age in the Cyclades is carefully examined with their enigmatic and typical marbles. An evolution in the art of these statuettes can be established ranging from the violin-shaped females with their long necks to the figurines with stumpy arms and legs with minimal facial features to figurines standing with crossed arms and showing prominent noses.
This culture was gradually absorbed by the Minoans of Crete and the author details the vestiges of the Great Minoan Royal Palaces discovered and excavated by Arthur Evans. Strangely enough, although the Minoans knew how to read and write as early as 2000 BC their language remains an enigma as it has not been deciphered. However, the many frescoes and vestiges that were recovered from palaces at Knossos, Malia, Kato Zakro, Haghia Triada and Phaistos turn out to be very helpful to create a picture of daily life and the overall organization of this civilization. Unfortunately, these palaces met dramatic and mysterious fates and the Minoan culture suddenly disappeared.
Inevitably, history leads us to the Lost Atlantis, once an island empire that sunk into the sea after the catastrophic eruption of the volcano on which it was built. What remains is the island of Thera (modern Santorini) and it has been established that its fate is linked to that of Crete. The volcano ashes buried Crete under a thick blanket which destroyed crops and fields for years. Among the cities recently unearthed from its ashes is the site of Akrotiri – a situation not unlike that of Pompeii. Thera itself has disclosed a great treasure of lively frescoes depicting people and animals, even an entire 20-ft-long maritime scene of the Libyan coast and a pastoral scene including a series of soldiers marching off towards the battlefield.
As one civilization disappears, another is on the rise and in this case, it are the Myceneans who are taking over the power in the eastern Mediterranean, confirmed and illustrated by the masterpieces recovered from the Royal Graves by Heinrich Schliemann. Beside cities like Tiryns and Mycenae, attention is given to the beehive shaped tomb known as the Treasure of Atreus which Schliemann took for belonging to Agamemnon. The many, mainly gold treasures found at Mycenae are well documented.
When this period of glory crumbled, Greece slumbered into the dark ages which lasted for three or four hundred years and are said to have been darker than the Middle Ages in Western Europe. Rooted in the once so glorious Mycenaean civilization, eventually, the Age of Pericles and Socrates emerged, laying the foundations of our western civilization.
The book concludes with a great chart entitled The Emergence of Man (the actual subtitle of the book, and rightfully so) putting Geology, Archaeology, Time (in millions, then thousands, then hundred of years ago) and Places/Inventions on one line.
It makes fascinating reading!