Although Cretan excavators during the late nineteenth century received academic degrees in literature, medicine or law, their systematic excavations aimed towards professionalizing the field. Excavators were at the intersection of Cretan politics, education, and archaeology, as well as stewards of the past. They legitimized an archaeological institution through their theory, practices, and leading roles within the local community. Instead of referring to the developing practices of these intellectuals with the pejorative term “antiquarianism,” this paper assesses their merit as leaders within the Cretan archaeological terrain. The methodology of Cretan excavators from 1878-1919 ‒ like that of Minos Kalokairinos [1843-1907], Stephanos Xanthoudides [1864-1928], and Iosif Hatzidakis [1848-1936] ‒ is taken into consideration using archival documents from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens ‒ Gennadius Library and the Archaeological Museum of Herakleion.
Despite their lack of formal training, how can we reconcile the dynamic and constructive roles of Cretan intellectuals as archaeologists, historians, politicians, and educators? The responsibility of Cretan archaeologists extended beyond the mere role of an excavator, and there is a need to evaluate how Cretans engaged in the intellectual conversations of their island’s past throughout a period of transition with foreign collaborators in order to professionalize archaeology. Cretans were pioneers at the forefront of Minoan excavations when no set standard existed for the foundations of this archaeological genre. Arguably, the Treaty of Halepa  transformed Cretan policy socially and politically by legalizing groups like the Filekpaideftikos Syllogos. As a result of these institutional changes (Article XV), literary societies, newspapers, printing presses, and archaeological excavations became a standard part of the social and political Cretan environment. Cretan excavators, under partial Ottoman control, were now afforded the legal opportunities to integrate the island’s ancient past into a broader cultural context that was absent during previous periods of intense occupation.