Dawn of Discovery. The Early British Travellers to Crete: Richard Pococke, Robert Pashley and Thomas Spratt, and their Contribution to the Island’s Bronze Age Archaeological Heritage, by Dudley Moore.
Oxford, British Archaeological Reports, International Series 2053 (2010). Pb, 174 pp, ISBN 978-1-4073-0542-4. £46.
Daniel Boorstin, who was Librarian of the US Congress for a dozen years to 1987, suggested in his book The Discoverers that if a traveller did not return to tell those at home about his discoveries, then his voyage was wasted, a dead end. Moore’s argument in Dawn of Discovery is that the three travellers under discussion—Pococke, Pashley and Spratt—did reveal the existence of Bronze Age remains on Crete in their subsequent books, and so should be given credit for their discovery, whereas Sir Arthur Evans is almost universally considered the father of Bronze Age Cretan archaeology, based on his work at Knossos and at the expense of earlier explorers on the island. The matter, however, is not necessarily as straightforward as Moore would have it.
In his research for Dawn of Discovery, which is based on his D.Phil. thesis for Sussex University, Moore retraced the steps of the three early travellers, using their books as guides. His summary of their journeys across the island will be of interest to ASTENE members, perhaps more for what those expeditions reveal of 18th- and 19th-century views of and life on the island than for their archaeological details. He devotes a chapter to Pococke and three each to Pashley and Spratt, beginning with a short biography of each man and then looking carefully at their published discussions of what they may have believed to be pre-Classical ruins, in each case comparing their descriptions with existing remains, most of which are illustrated with the author’s photographs. Interesting primary research that reveals such information as Spratt’s correspondence with Charles Darwin on the matter of an early civilization on Crete is also included. In a short detour, Moore devotes a chapter to the legend of Daidalos’ labyrinth, in which all three travellers were interested and which Spratt believed derived from the network of underground passages at Gortyns, a site in the Messara plain in central Crete.
Apart from the main discussion concerning the three travellers, an introductory chapter on Bronze Age Cretan archaeology provides a basic background to those unfamiliar with the period, and another summarizes early British travel in the region, including a short history of the establishment of the British learned societies
in the 18th and 19th centuries and their role in the exploration of Greek lands. A few somewhat sweeping statements and unfortunate errors made this reviewer pause (‘The Ottoman Empire was basically an Islamic war machine’, for example, or the misnaming of The Geological Society as the ‘Royal Geological Society’, and the reference to UCLA as ‘University College Los Angeles’, rather than the University of California at Los Angeles), but that is not to deny that these overview chapters are highly useful. A roundup chapter discussing some dozen other British travellers to Crete and Greece, from William Lithgow and George Sandys in the early 17th century to Edward Lear and William Clark in the late 19th, is also of interest.
Moore’s premise, and the conclusion he draws at the end of his research, is that although Pocock’s contribution to the discovery of the Bronze Age civilization of Crete was small, that of Pashley and Spratt was not. He believes that all three
should be credited with the development of pre- Classical archaeology on the island, and that Sir Arthur Evans’ achievements, while remarkable, should be seen as building on the work of these earlier travellers, whose accounts Evans must have read. Fair enough. One cannot disagree with his argument that these men were the first to mention in print sites that have subsequently been recognized as dating to the Bronze Age, or with his assertion that Pashley and Spratt, at least, were probably aware that the ruins dated to some period before that of Classical Greece, based on their use of terms such as ‘Cyclopean’ to describe the masonry, or ‘heroic age’ to refer to the likely time of construction. Nevertheless, this reviewer found herself wondering how much this limited understanding is worth—whether, in Boorstin’s sense, these travellers really did return home to tell others of what they had seen, when they didn’t actually understand what they had seen at all.