What does it mean? What were they saying?
NEW YORK.- The exhibition "From the Land of the Labyrinth: Minoan Crete, 3000–1100 B.C." presents more than 280 artifacts and works of art from the ancient land of Crete, most of which have never been shown outside Greece. These fascinating objects seen together bring to life the story of Crete’s luminous Minoan culture, the first palatial civilization to establish itself on European soil.
The exhibition brings to light aspects of Minoan daily life during the second and third millennia B.C., including social structure, communications, bureaucratic organization, religion, and technology.
In eleven thematic sections, the exhibition maps chronologically the establishment and great achievements of Minoan culture. Here the viewer can explore the historical and cultural context of this celebrated society and gain insight into its mysteries, such as the legends surrounding the reign of King Minos of Knossos, who commissioned the fabled Labyrinth of Greek mythology.
Information gathered from the study of the Early, Middle, and Late Minoan periods—also known as the Prepalatial, Protopalatial, Neopalatial, and Postpalatial periods—is largely based on objects excavated from the island’s burial grounds and settlements. The exhibition pieces together the culture’s past by focusing on such objects as gold jewelry deposited in the rich tombs of the elite, inscribed clay tablets that reveal the basic elements of the Minoan economy, ceremonial vessels found in both palaces and tombs, and votive figures of clay, symbolic offerings to protective deities. All of these intriguing objects are on loan from the archaeological museums in Crete, in collaboration with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture.
The island of Crete is equidistant from the three continents of Africa, Asia, and the European mainland. As a result of this advantageous location, the Minoans experienced a period of active trade with the other civilizations around the Mediterranean basin and maintained control over the sea routes. They exported timber, foodstuffs, cloth, and olive oil and in turn imported tin, copper, silver, emery, precious stones, and some manufactured objects. For their basic needs, however, the Minoans were entirely self-sufficient.
Archaeological evidence from the Prepalatial period reveals the great changes that took place in the social structure of Early Minoan society. The rise of local elite populations, for instance, led them to commission and display different types of objects in order to convey and celebrate their social identity and rank. This kind of social differentiation gradually led to the formation of a palatial society during the Middle Minoan or Protopalatial period about 1900 B.C. Urbanization and increasing economic wealth brought about bureaucratic change, including the rise of powerful social classes and ruling groups. Major palaces were built at Knossos and Malia in northern Crete, at Phaistos in the south, and at Zakros in the east. These palaces were large building complexes that served as centers of religious, economic, and social life for their inhabitants. The architecture and the layout of the palaces communicated a dynastic message, enhanced by prestigious objects and symbolic expressions of the rulers’ power.
With the palaces came the development of writing, probably as a result of record-keeping demands of the palace economy. The Minoans used a hieroglyphic script most likely derived from Egypt and a linear script, Linear A, which may have evolved from the language of the eastern Mediterranean and has yet to be deciphered. In the section of the exhibition entitled Scripts and Weights, examples of this mysterious script will be displayed, exemplified by the Linear A Tablet shown here. This sun-dried clay slab dates from the end of the Late Minoan I period and exemplifies the administrative records that listed products, goods, and people. Inscriptions have also been found on various important objects, such as double-sided axes, pottery, seals, and stone vessels. The exhibition includes as well tablets in Linear B script, which was deciphered in the 1950s by M. Ventris and J. Chadwick. The symbols of this script reflect an early form of the Greek language that was spoken by the Myceneans, who had arrived in Crete by the second half of the fifteenth century B.C.