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Cultural Comparison & Contrast Between
Minoans and Classical Athenians

Final Term Project

Professor Tisa Abshire-Walker
Anthropology 4: Prehistory
Copyright © 1996 B. A. "Collie" Collier


The next couple of paragraphs are background on the paper. If you're not interested, feel free to jump to the next header. I won't tell anyone. :-)

The following paper was written for what was quite possibly one of the most demanding courses I've ever been in. By the time I discovered I'd need this class, we were halfway through the quarter. It was an honors class, and since I'd not bothered to join the honors program, I should have been unable to take it, in spite of having a GPA that would ordinarily allow me to do so. However, the professor was a friend of mine, so she allowed me to take the class (Anthropology 4: Prehistory) as independent study. I did this insane thing, in the middle of the quarter, because that way I'd have all the requirements for graduation with my A.A. in Social Sciences finished by the end of the quarter. Glarg! I made it too, she said weakly, from the floor... :-)

I ended up doing the equivalent of six weeks of class-work and a midterm in one week, another six weeks of class-work followed by another midterm in the next week, and then a final term project -- squashed into a week and a half. Thank heavens both midterms were take home. Needless to say, Mr. Cranky spent a lot of time at my house. :-)

In some ways, I was a bit unlucky in how the final project came down for me. Initially it was supposed to be done in teams, with about two months preparation. Also, it was to be given orally, and the professor just wanted an outline of what was spoken. Unfortunately, there was no team for me, I only had two weeks to prepare, and there was no class time available for me to give it orally. Swearing internally, I took my outline back and put in some real scholarship. :-)

In other ways I was quite lucky in my professor's choice of final projects. She decided each of us, for our final projects, should:

[T]ake on the role of a member of that culture [the one chosen for the final project]. This will become [your] home culture, about which you each have an 'emic' [e.g. 'native-born'] understanding.... You ... now come to ... classical Athens (550 - 350 B.C.E.). Using the participant-observation of the anthropologist who is gaining an 'etic' [e.g. 'non-native'] viewpoint, you each meet with an Athenian historian.... By working with primary and secondary documents, essential parts of the historian's methodology, you develop an historical analysis which gives a cross-cultural comparison of [these two cultures] as [they have] developed in the two different cultures. (Remember, you will need to document your sources.) ...As your conclusion, and the basic point behind this whole project, analyze WHY this 'area of knowledge' has developed the way it has in each of the two cultures. In other words, why do the similarities and differences which you note exist? What has caused them? (This will be the most difficult part of the entire assignment, but remember: you are now the cross-cultural expert.) [square bracketed commentary mine].

I chose to examine closely the "Minoan" culture of Crete. This gave me a few immediate problems.

Minoan writing is called by scholars "linear A," and it has yet to be successfully translated. There is a gentleman who claimed to have 'broken the code' in 1991, but I've yet to see anything on it (BTW, if anyone knows whether linear A has indeed been translated, please let me know!). Therefore there really weren't any "primary" (written by members of that society) documents I could use. However, the professor let me take factual accounts of what has been discovered archaeologically, and use those as primary documents.

Also, there just aren't many scholars that have written extensively on Crete. Thus my "secondary" source books were limited in number; they either consisted of either part of a chapter or only a few lines of information, or included wild speculations written by authors whose credentials and objectivity I seriously doubted.

On the other hand, I found these two problems were also, in a sense, strengths for me. I could pretty much speculate freely on the causes of the cultural divergence between classical Athens and Minoan Crete, because I could read practically everything there was on Crete. And no one could say my speculations were wrong, because no one really knew what the Minoans themselves wrote and believed.

So here it is. It was written from the point of view of a Minoan initiate to the clergy, and she's obviously not completely objective. In places she is (dare I say it) almost preachy. I present this mostly because it might be mildly inspiring as source information to someone running a game or trying to think of a PC with a slightly different point of view. If you find this useful or interesting, drop me a line and let me know -- I'll be immensely gratified!