NOTE: A million years ago when I was young, attractive and a middle-aged student at Marshall University, I wrote a paper that captured my imagination and secured my love of Cultural Anthropology. I had enormous fun writing this paper. Beware: it’s long — something like 33 pages long. I am posting it to archive it. You’re free to read it, of course, those who do report not only being interested, but amused.
NOTE #2: I sometimes refer to myself as once the world’s foremost authority on Minoan blue monkey frescoes. I would hope someone has cleared up the question as to why an ancient people in what is now Greece were drawing blue monkeys on their walls.
Sacre` Bleu!: Minoan Blue Monkey Frescoes
What ultimately gives a culture its character is its thought,
and that– in a prehistoric context– is the most elusive characteristic of all….
Nevertheless, the Minoans left thousands of clues to guide us.
[Castleden, 1993, p. 123]
This paper began as an attempt to sate my curiosity as to why a prehistoric people on an island in the Mediterranean felt compelled to paint monkeys – an animal not native to the area – and, moreover, why they chose to do so with blue paint. The paper ends with the development of my own, apparently unique, theory.
These prehistoric people, the Minoans, are generally believed to have developed a sophisticated culture on the island of Crete. Minoan or Minoan-influenced settlements, some argued to be colonies, are also found on the islands of Thera, Kythera, Rhodes, Naxos, Karpathos, Kea, and Melos, and on the Anatolian coast [Castleden, 1993, p. 117]. The differences between Neolithic assemblages and Early Minoan ones are sufficientlydissimilar as to suggest the Minoans were immigrants to the island, although Watrous discusses internal factors that may account for the cultural breaks [Watrous, 1994, pp. 703-704]. The material evidence of the Greek mainland during the Bronze Age suggests the Cretan Minoans were not the ancestors of the people who became the Classical Greeks [MacKendrick, 1981, p. 61]. Sometime after the volcanic eruption on Thera, the Minoan civilization began to dissipate, eventually to be replaced by the Mycenaean culture of the Grecian mainland. Their origin and demise is mysterious, but they left enough artifacts on Thera alone that “[e]ven if [Doumas] had the money- which he does not – to pay more restorers, the sheer weight of the archaeological evidence would occupy hundreds of people for decades.” [Ellis, 1998, p. 187.]
In “sound-bite” descriptions of Minoans, the bull leaping, polychromatic art/architecture, and undeciphered Linear A script are almost invariably mentioned as is speculation about status of the women. Yet, one does not have to delve very far into the literature to find mention of the blue monkey frescoes on the walls of a “palace” and other structures. They are held as examples of trade connections, serve as examples of the Minoans use of color, and have been used as evidence of Minoan colonization.Continue reading