Arthur John Evans is notable amongst the winners of the RIBA Royal Gold Medal, in that he is a layman and not an architect, and is one of just 10 medallists who were archaeologists.
'His discoveries revealed the extraordinary advances that had been achieved in Crete, a thousand years before the birth of architecture in Classical Greece.'
Evans, the son of an archaeologist, understandably followed his father into the profession, after accompanying him on excavation at the age of 15. Evans studied Modern History at Oxford before studying abroad in Bosnia, Finland and northern Scandinavia.
Evans was appointed Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford in 1884. This role allowed him to both travel and research and he took full advantage of both, lecturing in the Rhind series at Edinburgh in 1895 about the influence of ancient oriental cultures on those of early Europe.
Evans was influenced by the work of Heinrich Schliemann (himself a Royal Gold Medallist) at Troy and Mycenae, and once Evans had become fired by the acquisition of a seal-stone from Crete, he set out to explore the origins of Crete further. Under Ottoman law, Evans acquired a share of the estate at Kephála at classical Knossos in 1894, near to where Mycenaean remains had been found some years earlier. His excavations with the British School of Archaeology at Athens from 1899 revealed the palace of Knossos with brilliant frescoes, pottery and associated artefacts. After eight seasons of excavation, the principal objects were exhibited in London. The wealth and number of artefacts found by Evans and subsequent excavations by the Italians, French, British and Americans made it necessary to rename the prehistoric culture to ‘Minoan’.
Aware that visitors to Knossos might find it difficult to understand the palace, Evans rebuilt on top of the archaeological remains, restoring where possible and embellishing with coloured decoration.