Louise Hitchcock’s lecture on Minoan Rulers

Louise, who is currently the “National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow” at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem just presented a lecture entitled “Missing or Mis-Perceived? Locating the Purloined Ruler in Neopalatial Crete”.

The lecture was recorded and can be watched on YouTube (here).

Here is the abstract:

The title is a reference to the Edgar Allan Poe story, The Purloined Letter, one of a trilogy of Poe’s stories that inspired the modern detective novel. The letter in question contains important information being used to blackmail a queen. It remains hidden, yet easily accessible to the blackmailer. The blackmailer based his concealment of the letter on his assessment of the intelligence of the police. The police act on the assumption that the blackmailer used an elaborate means to hide the letter. This assumption was guided by their perception filters and informed by their expectations of how the blackmailer might have behaved. However, as the main character, Auguste Dupin demonstrates, the blackmailer has hidden the letter in a filigree card rack, in fact, hiding it in plain sight.  

We might assume the existence of a ruler or governing body of some kind for Minoan civilization as a highly complex society, which required different levels of organization and decision making to manage and oversee construction activities, craft specialization, trade, and other activities that characterize early states. Yet, previous research and analyses by Aegean archaeologists have expressed wonderment, frustration and confusion regarding the identification of temples, deities, and rulers in Minoan culture, to say nothing of scribes and bureaucrats (papers in Rehak 1995 Aegaeum 11). The many colleagues who have studied this problem are not lacking in intelligence or in a thorough knowledge of Minoan architecture and iconography; all are well educated and expertly trained.  Yet, in this paper I intend to argue that like the purloined letter, the ruler is not only hiding in plain sight but that our inability to find him is a product of our perception filters that is informed by our disciplinary orientation and expectations regarding kingship.  

Many scholars of Aegean art come from backgrounds in classics and classical archaeology, and are informed by analogies with the literature, history, rituals, and other social structures associated with later Greek culture. When they look to Egypt or the Levant for comparative evidence in the form of analogs, the conclusions arrived at are not always appropriate or deeply interrogated. Coming from a background in Mesopotamian history, languages, and archaeology, I bring a different perspective in terms of considering the ancient Near East. Rather than looking for iconographic or textual analogs based on assumptions of what constitutes kingly imagery, I look to the development of state formation in the Sumerian civilization, the earliest civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. I will argue that certain structural features in the organization of the early state and in the depiction of kingship, religion, other social structures, and administration provide a useful anthropological model for interpreting the emergence of kingship in Minoan Crete as something following a model of emerging complexity rather than looking for cultural diffusion. I will conclude with a discussion of how emergent kingship in Minoan civilization contributed to social instability and upheaval by the end of the Neopalatial period.  

Check it out!