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Funds permitting, I would like to do another Minoan doll, this time one of the three Blue Ladies from Knossos. They’re not actually dressed in blue, just posed against a blue background. Here, you can see my faithful watercolor rendering of the ladies, with their pearl-bound tresses and patterned orange jackets.

But wait, you say, how can you do a doll when you don’t know what the bottom looks like?

Well, there is another fresco from Knossos which shows ladies line-dancing. They wear the same orange jackets, with tiered blue and orange skirts.

In fact, the Dancing Girl fresco in the so-called Queen’s Megaron also wears the orange jacket, which makes me wonder whether the orange jacket/blue skirt combination might have been what the priestesses at Knossos wore.

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I realize I have been neglecting my journal lately. But I have been working diligently on finishing Orestes: The Outcast, and on crafting this 1-inch scale doll: The Minoan Snake Priestess.

Each of those fringes was hand-applied; each row took about 2-3 hours to complete. Yes, she is holding a coiled snake around her left hand, and the background is the Throne Room fresco from Knossos; the picture was taken prior to her being settled in her shadow box. Pictures of that will follow once I can get around the reflection off the glass.

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View from Akrotiri, the Minoan Pompeii.  In ancient times, the door and window frames would have been wood fitted together with wooden pegs; today, they are concrete, modeled after casts taken when archaeologists pumped plaster into voids in the compacted ash where organic material had deteriorated.

Minoan architecture made such liberal use of wooden tie beams, uprights, pillars, and door and window frames that some experts believe this practice contributed to the deforestation of Crete.  One reason the Minoans might have done this was that the wood construction helped reinforce buildings against seismic stresses.

As you can see, though, the Minoans managed some rather generous windows, when most contemporary windows elsewhere were small and narrow.  The people of Akrotiri must have enjoyed great natural light and views.

Minoan houses had stone foundations, and the visible sections of the ground floor walls would have been dressed with stone.  While the framework was wood, the upper stories were probably mud brick.  The Minoans used lime plaster to cover the walls and provide a smooth white surface for decoration, and they often plastered the floor as well.  In wealthier establishments, the floor might be bordered with flagstones, and with soft gypsum in the center.  Sometimes the floors were painted with spirals, colored rectangles, and aquatic life; the famous Dolphin Sanctuary fresco at Knossos might have been a floor decoration fallen from the level above.

Evidence from Akrotiri and Knossos indicates that the Minoans also utilized sliding wooden pier and partition doors, meaning the doors could be slid back to provide access and greater light, or closed to seal off a space for rituals, or simply to keep in the heat during the winter.


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There are still fifteen minutes in October, and on Halloween night, for me to write a ghoulish themed post.

I have often wondered about ancient sites like Mycenae. If the legends are to be believed, horrific things happened at Mycenae, so where are the restless ghosts, the cold spots, the creepiness? It’s not the sort of thing archaeologists ever mention in their field notes. For that matter, where are the ghosts of Pompeii and Herculaneum, or the spirits of Knossos or Akrotiri? Does the negative energy dissipate once enough time passes, after people abandon the area and the site lies dormant for centuries, or is it still there?
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The famous Dolphin Fresco, gracing what Sir Arthur Evans called The Queen’s Megaron. What you see today is a reconstruction which is not without its controversy. It’s thought now that the dolphins might have decorated a floor rather than a wall on the level just above, and when Knossos was destroyed for the final time around 1200 B.C., the upper floors crashed into the lower ones, and the fresco ended up lying in the so-called “The Queen’s Megaron.”
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The Snake Goddess, the ubiquitous pin-up girl of Minoan Crete.  She, along with another figurine, was discovered during the first excavation of Knossos, lying broken in pieces under the floor of one of the many cult rooms of the West Wing.

But she is actually the smaller of the two figurines, and known in expert circles as the Votary.  Assuming the Minoans intended to render a “Snake Goddess,” then that label properly belongs to the larger figurine.  I suspect she may be a representation of the Minoan goddess Diktynna in her aspect as the Mistress of the Animals--she who would later become Artemis.  Then again, there is much about religion in the Bronze Age Aegean that we simply do not know.

The Votary and Goddess are the only two authentic “Snake Goddesses” that have ever been discovered.  All the others are modern forgeries.

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An iconic fresco, the mysterious young Prince of the Lilies graces Cretan postcards and tourist tchotchkes.  Little do the tourists who flock to Knossos each year by the thousands know that the fresco is a fake.  Fake, that is, in that it was reconstructed three fresco fragments that might not even be related to each other.  In the image below, you can see that only the crown, torso, and part of the left leg are original fresco fragments; the rest is a fanciful modern reconstruction.

The Minoans followed Egyptian standards in coloring--that is, they used brown or Indian red for male skin, and white for female.  What is peculiar about the Prince of the Lilies is that his skin is white.  So the original fresco might have depicted a girl rather than a youth.

The fresco you see in the Corridor of Procession when you visit Knossos, and on postcards and other trinkets, is a reproduction; the original is housed in the nearby Heraklion Archaeological Museum.

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A few weeks ago, someone asked why I had used Minoan artwork for the cover art of The Young Lion, the point being that the novel is set in the Mycenaean culture.

The lazy answer is that my stock photo choices were rather limited.  The other answer is that the lion/griffin figure on the cover actually is Mycenaean artwork.

The Mycenaeans took over Knossos in 1450 B.C., two hundred years before the Trojan War, and it was a Mycenaean king, Idomeneus, who led the second-largest contingent to Troy.  So the ruling class that commissioned the artwork you see today at the reconstructed Knossos and in the nearby Heraklion Museum was Mycenaean.

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A reconstruction of what the Knossos Throne Room might have looked like 3,200 years ago.

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Tiles found at Knossos, in a room just north of the Hall of the Double Axes and Grand Staircase.  Several more of these were discovered in the cache; they were probably attached to a wooden chest to create the look of a Minoan town.

Note: The feet depicted above come from another image.

March 2012

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