History of discovery and distribution of the remains of Aegean civilization

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Mycenae and Tiryns are the two principal sites on which evidence of a prehistoric civilization was remarked long ago by the classical Greeks.

The curtain-wall and towers of the Mycenaean citadel, its gate with heraldic lions, and the great "Treasury of Atreus" had borne silent witness for ages before Heinrich Schliemann's time; but they were supposed only to speak to the Homeric, or at farthest a rude Heroic beginning of purely Hellenic, civilization. It was not until Schliemann exposed the contents of the graves which lay just inside the gate, that scholars recognized the advanced stage of art to which prehistoric dwellers in the Mycenaean citadel had attained.

There had been, however, a good deal of other evidence available before 1876, which, had it been collated and seriously studied, might have discounted the sensation that the discovery of the citadel graves eventually made. Although it was recognized that certain tributaries, represented e.g. in the XVIIIth Dynasty tomb of Rekhmara at Egyptian Thebes as bearing vases of peculiar forms, were of some Mediterranean race, neither their precise habitat nor the degree of their civilization could be determined while so few actual prehistoric remains were known in the Mediterranean lands. Nor did the Aegean objects which were lying obscurely in museums in 1870, or thereabouts, provide a sufficient test of the real basis underlying the Hellenic myths of the Argolid, the Troad and Crete, to cause these to he taken seriously. Aegean vases have been exhibited both at Sèvres and Neuchâtel since about 1840, the provenience (i.e. source or origin) being in the one case Phylakope in Melos, in the other Cephalonia.

Ludwig Ross, the German archaeologist appointed Curator of the Antiquities of Athens at the time of the establishment of the Kingdom of Greece, by his explorations in the Greek islands from 1835 onwards, called attention to certain early intaglio engraved gems, since known as Inselsteine; but it was not until 1878 that C. T. Newton demonstrated these to be no strayed Phoenician products. In 1866 primitive structures were discovered on the island of Therasia by quarrymen extracting pozzolana, a siliceous volcanic ash, for the Suez Canal works. When this discovery was followed up in 1870, on the neighbouring Santorini (Thera), by representatives of the French School at Athens, much pottery of a class now known immediately to precede the typical late Aegean ware, and many stone and metal objects, were found. These were dated by the geologist Ferdinand A. Fouqué, somewhat arbitrarily, to 2000 BC, by consideration of the superincumbent eruptive stratum.

Meanwhile, in 1868, tombs at Ialysos in Rhodes had yielded to Alfred Biliotti many fine painted vases of styles which were called later the third and fourth "Mycenaean". However, these artifacts, bought by John Ruskin and presented to the British Museum, excited less attention than they deserved. They were deemed to be of some local Asiatic fabric of uncertain date. Nor was a connection immediately detected between them and the objects found in 1872 in a tomb at Menidi in Attica and a rock-cut "bee-hive" grave near the Argive Heraeum.

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