Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, Vol 13, No 2 (2000)

Journeys of an Icon: The Provenance of the 'Boston Goddess'

Kenneth D.S. Lapatin
Issued Date: 21 Mar 2007


The traditional account of the delivery of the gold and ivory Minoan Snake Goddess to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, by a Cretan immigrant, formerly a workman at Knossos, is a fabrication. Previously unpublished documents reveal that two American archaeologists with close ties to the Museum were directly involved in transporting the statuette, in June 1914. Neither was interested in personal profit; rather, they acted as middlemen, apparently for a senior employee of Arthur Evans at Knossos who had previously offered the statuette to a German scholar. The Cretan origins of the Goddess are thus confirmed. Yet the information presented here solves only one of the Goddess's mysteries. For, notwithstanding affinities to excavated material, the statuette lacks a verifiable archaeological provenience. Despite the wishful thinking of many over the past 85 years, to employ the Goddess as evidence of ancient Cretan art, culture, and religion, let alone to authenticate other unprovenienced -Minoan- figurines, is methodologically unsound. Forgers as well as illicit excavators were active in early 20th-century Crete. The Boston Goddess nonetheless remains valuable historiographically as her journeys shed light on the traffic in cultural property at the beginning of the last century, contemporaneous attitudes towards prehistoric Cretan civilization, and modern myths of its recovery.

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DOI: 10.1558/jmea.v13i2.127


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