2004-02-16: Mysteries of the Snake Goddess

Mysteries of the Snake Goddess

Art, Desire, and the Forging of History (2002)

by Kenneth Lapatin (?-)

This book makes a case that essentially all of the famous “Minoan” artifacts, such as the “Snake Goddess” in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, are forgeries.

Lapatin’s case seems reasonable, and mentions many specific objects and their lack of “provenience”, the detailed description of the archeological context in which they were found. Apparently the circumstances surrounding Arthur Evans and other archeologists in Crete in the early 20C allowed unofficial exporting (i.e., smuggling) to take artifacts to paying customers (museums and private collectors) without notifying the Cretan authorities. As a result, it was common for artifacts to be sold with a verbal story, but no documentation. And archeologists connived in this trade, not wishing to be arrested or blocked from further work.

Lapatin describes how Evans used his personal resources to “restore” the Palace of Knossos in the image of his conception of Minoan culture forming the basis for European civilization. Evans evidently added considerably to the actual remains, some from his own imagination and some from the imagination of the artists who worked on the project with him. These same artists are implicated in many of the forgeries, producing artifacts based on Evans’s own ideas before they had been published.

I recall reading about Minoan civilization in the early 1960s, and finding it fascinating. It is unfortunate that Lapatin doesn’t describe the range of reliable ideas about Minoan civilization that remains after the questionable conclusions or fancies are removed.


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