About Eleanor Kuhns

Librarian and Writer Published A Simple Murder, May 2012

Bronze Age Crete – High Civilization

Bronze Age Crete is frequently termed Minoan from King Minos. He may or may not be mythical. He is the King in the Theseus story with the Minotaur, the Labyrinth and the ball of string from Ariadne. Minos is reputed to be the King who demanded seven youths and seven maidens from Athens for the bull-leaping ceremonies.

This is Bronze Age Crete refracted through mainland Greek culture, a warlike patriarchal society quite different from the culture on Crete. There was bull-leaping – that’s true – and perhaps bull masks were used to suggest half-man, half-bulls. And the famed labyrinth is now thought to be based on the interlinked dwellings of Crete.

Unlike the mainland towns, the Cretan cities did not have protective walls surrounding them. (They did, however, have an excellent navy). They traded with Egypt as well as the civilizations on Anatolia and opened up trading routes almost to the Black Sea. The archaeological records suggests they were invaded though; Knossos and some of the other cities were sacked and burned more than once. One of the theories regarding the destruction of this wonderful civilization suggestions the explosion of Thera (Santorini) was responsible.

A cultured civilization renowned in the Ancient World for its metal working, art works and frescos, pottery and more, the Cretans also had indoor toilets and bathtubs.The remnants are visible on Akrotiri, a site on a neighboring island buried by ash and now excavated. I am writing about approximately 1450 B.C. but this civilization lasted several hundred years before and after. Such amenities were lost and had to be re-invented thousands of years later.

Let’s talk about money

As I mentioned before in the previous post, at least my character Will Rees was used to money. Of course, in the early U.S., the people used French sous, Spanish pieces of eight, and British pence as well as the new coinage: the American dollar.

In the new series, in Bronze Age Crete, I am not sure how common money was.

No longer nomadic, the civilizations of the Middle East had settled homes where they¬†grew food. Financial interchanges probably began with barter – but that must have taken some dickering. “I’ll give you a bracelet for so many bags of wheat” for example.

By the period of my new series, the civilizations did have metal – hence the name Bronze Age. Bronze is a mixture of tin and copper. I suspect, since they had metal, they had some form of coinage – or at least metal that was used as money. Was it per weight? Who knows.

Many many clay tablets have been found on Crete and of course where the great civilizations of Mesopotamia were located. Most of them are lists: lists of products or a name of a person who will pay so many pieces of silver. One theory suggests that writing began so as to keep track of money.

But we would probably not recognize the money. In some cases the money was based on measures of barley that is the shekel. As we might expect, gold was rare and valuable – but also heavy – so silver and electrum (a combination of gold and silver) were also used. Egypt used copper as money.

And with the trade that took place at this time, I expect Egyptian copper money, shekels and other coins were used as well.

True coins, by the way, were not created until around 600 BCE. A great leap forward because, if you have consistent coinage, the money offered does not have to be weighed every time a financial transaction too place. Of course gold and silver would have been good for valuable items such as a slave or a bull but what about food?Thousands of less valuable coins made of copper or bronze have been found at places like Athens where there were markets and shops.

There is a lot more history about money – the role of kings, banking, lending and interest and so forth – features we take for granted to day. Hard to believe it all had to be invented and is actually quite complicated.

Money, scissors and more


Much research was and is required for the Will Rees mysteries. After all, they dressed differently, ate differently and mostly lived different. Most people then lived on farms. And, of course, there were no telephones, landlines or otherwise, no computers, no cars – the list goes on and on.

But as I research Bronze Age Crete for my next series, I realize how many things there are. Money, for example. Every Western country as well as China, India and more had money. Well, there was some money in the Bronze Age. In what is now Iraq and Iran, shekels were used. They were tied to a certain amount of barley. Consistent weights for gold and silver were beginning to be set up. But can I casually say my characters in Minoan Crete went to the market with their money and purchased something? No. Something must have been used; after all, Crete was the center of trade. Did they use a barter system or a combination of both? Obviously, more research is required.

I talked about needles in my last post. Well, let’s move on to scissors. Rees uses scissors and we would recognize them. Scissors were invented during the Bronze Age but they were not the scissors we know. More like two blades attached with a copper band.

And the people of Rees’s time period ate similarly to us. More meat heavy and certain vegetables were newish such as potatoes and tomatoes but we would recognize most of their food.¬† The Minoans ate differently. Sure, they ate lamb, seafood and goat, lentils and other pulses, grains such as barley and wheat. But did they consume dairy products? Had they learned to make cheese? So far, although there are competing theories, no one seems to know.

And did they eat beef? The bull was sacred to them. The Classical Greeks sacrificed Cattle by burning the hides and bones so the aroma would go up to the Gods. Did the Minoans sacrifice their Bulls and do the same? Or did they treat their cattle as they still do in India today: cattle are sacred and not eaten?

But they did consume beer, wine and a fermented honey similar to mead.

Bronze Age Tool


When we look back in time we often assume those civilizations that have gone before are primitive and the people barbarians. (A Greek word by the way. It meant that non-Greeks could only say bar-bar-bar. But I digress.) Nothing is further from the truth. Although some of the cultures look uncivilized to us and certainly the technology was not the same – or even present – some cultures enjoyed a very high level of – well – culture. The Minoans, for example, were affluent with beautiful art and a cohesive society that lasted at least a millennia. Because their Navy, the best in the World at that time, kept the island safe so the cities did not need to be surrounded by walls. I read one source that claimed that Knossos was the first real city. (I am sure other Mid-eastern scholars would disagree.) The Minoans also enjoyed indoor toilets. A visitor to Akrotiri can see the remains.

Akrotiri was a Minoan city outside of Crete. It was buried by the explosion on Santorini (Thera) and is under excavation.

So, what does this have to do with tools.

Well, I would guess that modern households have a particular tool now, the design of which has not changed since Neolithic times.The humble needle, once made of bone.

In Minoan times, the needles were made of bronze. If one thinks of the short tight jackets with short sleeves and the long skirts, it is not difficult to see that sewing would have been a required art. (The Minoans excelled in the fiber arts: weaving, dyeing and more and the items they made were important for trade.)

The iron needle did not come in until approximately 1195 B.C. – after the smiths had learned to harden iron.

Zeus and Dionysus – Cretan Version

The Cretan Zeus is not quite the same as the Classical Greek version of the God. For one thing, the Cretan Zeus is more of a harvest God who is born again each spring and dies in the Fall. Since Classical Greeks thought all Gods and Goddesses should be immortal, they changed the attribute of the God whose name they’d taken and declared all Cretans are liars. They kept, however, the story of his upbringing in a cave after his father, Cronus in Classical Greek mythology, swallowed all his children since one was prophesied as his killer. Zeus was nursed by a nanny goat – or one of several other animals. Take your pick. I’ve now read several variations. His crying was masked by the Kouretes, a group of armed men who clashed their weapons together to hide the cries.

So what does this have to do with Dionysus? Well, the Cretan Zeus is more like Dionysus. A harvest God followed by ecstatic worshippers.

When I was in Greece at Delphi I asked our tour guide why Dionysus was so different from the Classical Greek Gods. They do not embody the Dionysian wildness and several represent rationality. She didn’t know but I have the answer now. Dionysus is a very old God. He is named in the linear B tablets. And in many, if not most, of the other Middle Eastern Bronze Age religions there are other Gods like him.

These early beliefs were concentrated on fertility – not just human fertility although in Bronze Age Crete the High Priestess, as an earthly representation of the Goddess, represented that fertility. Ritual intercourse was practiced not only in the Mediterranean but as far away as Norway. For these early farmers, fertility among the livestock and of course a good harvest meant the difference between life and death.

Bouchercon 2017

Well, another Bouchercon is over. What a fun one this one was. Besides the usual interesting panels, it was held in Toronto. What a fabulous city.

Susanna Calkins was our wonderful moderator with really thought provoking questions. And the panel: Lois Gresh, Jonathan Putman, Andrea Penrose and Beverly Todd were all fascinating speakers. You can see from the photo how intently I’m listening.

On to St. Petersburg next year!

Ancient Crete

Although I am planning to continue the Will Rees mystery series, I also want to begin a new and very different series. These mysteries will be set in Ancient Bronze Age Crete.

Needless to say, the research has been intense!

I have learned so much. (There is still a lot more to learn, not just for me but for the archeologists too. All that we know now is from the archeological record, myths and various interpretations.)

But I digress.

These ancient Minoans were a civilized society with indoor toilets, beautiful art, and some very intriguing cultural differences. For one thing, they worshipped a Goddess and appear to be matrilineal as well as matrilocal. (That means inheritance went through the mother and when she married the man lived with her.) They worshipped snakes and apparently snake handling was part of the ceremonies.

Like most of the Goddesses then, she was the deity of fertility. Women enjoyed a high rank, something that many of the early archeologists found hard to believe.

The bull was revered. A symbol of the male principle, the bull was sacrificed at important ceremonies. Yes, this is the culture with bull-leaping. Probably most people know of this from the myth of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur in the labyrinth. It turns out that the people who became the Classical Greeks interpreted the Minoan culture through the lens of their own beliefs.

Genres at Mavens of Mayhem

On Saturday I spoke to the SINC (Sister in Crime) chapter to which I belong: the Mavens of Mayhem. SINC was started by Sara Paretsky in the 1980’s to support women writers. At that time, women writers were hardly ever reviewed. (Many sources I see in the Library are still like this. Book page mystery section reviews about 85% – 90% men and the few women who appear are heavyweights like Louise Penney. So there is still a lot of work to do. But I digress.)

So Sisters in Crime was begun and now there are chapters all over the country.

Anyway, I put on my librarian hat and spoke about genres and the difficulty of placing a book in the proper slot. Of course there is a lot of discussion on this; many librarians don’t want to “pigeonhole” but I feel it is an aid to the patron who reads only mystery or only romance. Of course within the genres there are sub-genres (noir, historical, cozy for example) and especially now days there are a lot of books that are more than one genre. The Devil’s Bible by Carpenter is mystery, historical, fantasy and even a little romance. (It is a great book, BTW.) Then the question is, where do you locate such a book so readers will find it?

Since several of the writers and beginning writers in the group have books that cross genres, we had a great discussion. One of the members referenced her attempt to find a book Dinosaur barbecue. In the catalog it was listed: Cookery – Dinosaur.

I will leave the peculiarities of subject headings for another day.

Amazon and music


I order a fair amount from Amazon even though I am one of those dinosaurs that actually likes to go into a store and browse. I order books too even though I work in a library and I haunt Barnes and Noble and visit the smaller book shops regularly. Amazon has books I need for my research that I can’t get by any other method.

But what I really use Amazon for is streaming music. I have a variety of playlists and I buy music, both old and new, to download to my phone, all the time.

The problem with Amazon is this: Music unlimited. Now I am willing to purchase the songs and I do, (And sometimes Amazon takes them away again even though I have bought them and downloaded them. I hate this. But I digress.) But I CAN’T buy some songs because they are music unlimited and Amazon wants me to pay $7.99 a month for access to them. I do not download that many songs per month. Besides, the time I would need by itself stops me. I am sure that Amazon believes that customers want the songs so much they will pay that amount of money. But I won’t. I think its gouging. And its not like Amazon doesn’t already make huge profits. So I don’t buy the song at all.

Still. Amazon’s control of this marketplace is both irritating and frightening. They can go into my phone and remove something I’ve paid for? Seriously? And the billions they are already earning isn’t enough? So here in a nutshell is the good and bad of the digital world. I can get odd books and yet Amazon has so much power over music as well as my phone.

September 11 – 16 years later

Taking a break from my writing activities for a moment, I thought I would mention some of the thoughts I reflected upon yesterday.

Sixteen years seems like such a short time and yet so many things can happen. On September 11, I was in Maine with my daughter and several other kids. We’d taken a ferry to an island, only to be told at the little general store/post office what had happened. We all thought it was a joke. But when we returned to MDI and put on the television, there it was.

I was frantic. My son had gone home for a new – and I think his first job – after college. In the city. I kept trying and trying to reach him or my ex-husband, he also worked in the city, but of course I could not get through. I did not hear until much later that night that both were fine. My son had to walk uptown from Wall Street through the crap in the air. A day or two later his lung collapsed and he had to be hospitalized. He missed the wedding of his step-sister which took place the following Saturday.

I worked in a Rockland County library then, near Pearl River. The funerals were on-going for police and fire lost that day. In the Library, always a diverse and warm community, there was conflict with the Muslims, who then blamed the Jews – fully half my staff at the time. Although we papered over the differences, some of those friendships never recovered.

Sixteen years later so many things have changed. One of the young men with me in Maine met his future wife on that trip and they now have a little girl. Other relationships ended and others began but all are married with kids of their own. The country as a whole has changed, more than I would ever have thought possible. Just think about the security at the airports. I can’t even count the number of pat-downs (and I am blond and blue-eyed) that I have endured. As a country we seem to be more fearful – and now have our own homegrown terrorists. If bin Laden’s aim was to destroy the America as we knew it, he certainly succeeded.

As for my husband and I, we’ve moved to Maine and back again and then several times in New York. We have different jobs now – and 2011 was the year my writing career finally took off. In some ways sixteen years has been a long time, but in others how short it is.