on April 28, 2011
Cotrell's book reads rather like a hagiography of the two great venerable figures of modern Greek archaeology, Arthur Evans and Heinrich Schliemann. While both deserve praise and gratitude, both have likewise earned a degree of criticism for their impatience, grandiosity, runaway imaginations, and lack of intellectual discipline that arguably led to as much harm as good. One reads with a sense of agony of Schliemann burrowing hastily through and destroying entire levels of Troy, now lost to us forever, out of his pressing desire to discover evidence that matched his vision of Homer's Troy. And who can read without sighing with exasperation, his declaration upon discovering a gold mask in a Mycenaean shaft grave, that he has looked upon the face of Agamemnon?
Cottrell can do so, apparently, enamored as he is with the romanticism of the daring archaeology of spade and shovel. Unfortunately, the archaeology of the adventurer leaves fragments behind that the archaeology of scholars must try to piece back together.
Even as a matter of enthusiastic biography Cottrell might have paused to consider how Evans got custody of the site of Knossos in the first place, when Greek archaeologists were also poised to dig at the spot. And Schliemann's discovery of Troy was surely as much dumb luck as deduction - his reasoning was as often wrong as right.
I write this review as an admirer of Schliemann and Evans, but no on is served by hero-worship, and Cottrell, I fear, is as drawn to their excesses as to their gifts. So, in this popular survey of their discoveries, he rhapsodizes in a matter I find old fashioned and unengaging, shot through with nostalgia and gloss.
on August 15, 2015
Leonard Cottrell has produced a quick and engaging read of the careers of two archaeologists, Heinrich Schliemann and Arthur Evans, who were responsible for some of the greatest finds of the ancient world. His writing is clear and provides an easily accessible introduction to what is a complicated and increasingly contested topic. The reputations of both men have been tarnished as their methods and integrity have come under scrutiny by subsequent generations of professional scientists. In their day however they were the grand gentleman amateurs whose respective discoveries of the fabled city of Troy and the unknown civilisation of Minos on Crete set conventional wisdom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries on its head. Cottrell's account (first published in 1953) is now somewhat old fashioned, full of romantic tales, but it remains a scholarly account and an excellent introduction which will whett the appetites of readers new to the field who want to go on from this and learn more.