Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Sir Arthur Evans (1851–1941), left, with colleagues Duncan McKenzie, center, and Theodore Fyfe, sits among “Minoanware” vessels excavated from the Palace at Knossus, Crete.

Evans, tantalized by ancient gemstones inscribed with mysterious “hieroglyphics” that were said to have originated on Crete, began excavations at Knossos in 1899. Almost immediately, the British archaeologist uncovered a vast and labyrinthine palace complex belonging to a Bronze Age civilization he called Minoan, after the legendary Cretan king Minos.

Subsequent excavations on Crete uncovered an island-wide civilization that—at its height in the Middle Bronze Age (2000–1500 B.C.)—may have dominated much of the Aegean littoral as well as mainland Greece. In its last phase, from 1400 to 1200 B.C., Knossos may have been a Mycenaean Greek colony.

Evans’s hieroglyphics remain undeciphered. Two later scripts—Linear A and Linear B—were discovered at Knossos and at some mainland Mycenaean sites. Only Linear B, an early form of Greek, has been deciphered.