Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Michelle Styles: Upending history

One of the things about history is that while we think it is very settled and we know what went on, every now and then, a new discovery changes things.
So it proved earlier this month when my copy of the Smithsonian magazine arrived. My sister has had  it sent to me for about 15 years because she became tired of thinking  oh Michelle would find this fascinating and sending me the article.
This month's magazine had an article on a recent archaeological dig that had supposedly up ended what  was currently known  about the Minoan civilization and Mycenaean and their relationship to each other..  Because I have a long standing interest in this time in history, I rapidly read the article and my jaw dropped. A bit like how Howard Carter found the  tomb of  King Tutankhamen, this dig led by a husband and wife from the University of Cincinnati found an undisturbed tomb of a high ranking early Mycenaean  back in June of 2015 at Pylos on the Greek mainland.
Bull's head from Crete
The problem with looking at anything in this time period and trying to figure out what went on is a bit like trying to  do a jigsaw puzzle with about 40% of pieces missing. The resulting picture depends a great deal on the skill of the person interpreting  the pieces and sometimes what was though to be a piece of  sky is actually a piece of water or even something else entirely. This tomb adds greatly to the number of pieces that are available.
The story of how they found it  reads a bit like an adventure story   problems with permits meant they were unable to dig where they wanted and settled for what they thought was second best, the season had been okay but not great and was coming to a close and then they discovered it. Rather than finishing at the beginning of June, the dig was completed in November.
Throne room from Knossos
Because context is all, they painstakingly recorded how the grave was set out and what grave goods went where. (This is something that  was missing from many of the early digs -- for example Harold Evans at Knossos) And what grave  goods they were --- gold and silver cups, a variety of rings, beads made from precious stones and more than 50 seals with a skeleton of a man at the bottom, more than 1500 object in all. Included In short, it is probably the most significant find in Greece in the last 50 years.
One of the enduring mysteries about this time is  how much interaction is there between the Minoans on Crete and the Mycenaean on the mainland. Of course, the story of how Theseus  conquered the labyrinth, and destroyed the Minotaur is one of the world's great legends.  But no one knows the precise relationship between Mycenae and the Minoans. There has been much speculation, particularly after  Linear B was  finally decoded in the 1950's, but no one knows for certain. 
Because of how the grave goods were placed, it shows that the people doing the placing knew what the Minoan objects from Crete were used for. That is probable, the two civilizations co-existed together peacefully for a time and there was much trading.
Then in the summer of 2016, the same team made more discoveries on the site, including fragments of wall paintings which were done in the Minoan style. In other words, maybe the experts have had it wrong and that Minoan civilization wasn't completely wiped from the face of the earth. It seems probable with the new evidence that is emerging, the ancient Greeks owe their unique brand of government or democracy to  both the Mycenaeans and the Minoans intermingling. If so, then the roots of civilization will be altered. However, if one is writing historical fiction, one sometimes cannot use the cutting edge theory because it is more about creating a believable world.
So if writing about Theseus and the Minotaur, the old norms would still have to prevail. Even if this discovery holds the tantalizing possibility of upending everything we thought we knew.

Michelle Styles writes witty, warm and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical. Her latest SOLD TO THE VIKING WARRIOR is out now. You can read more about Michelle and her boks on 

1 comment:

Mary Preston said...

I found this fascinating thank you. (Thinking I should subscribe.)