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Jumping to Conclusions: Bull-Leaping in Minoan Crete

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Abstract Bull-leaping has become one of the most emblematic activities of Minoan Crete and has recently received renewed attention with the BBC/British Museum radio series, A History of the World in 100 Objects. One of the featured objects, a Minoan bronze group of a bull and acrobat, was brought to life in a television advertisement using a modern bull and leaper. This act of translation is at the heart of the dialogue this paper seeks to address: the interaction between current human attitudes toward nonhuman animals and their depictions, and those of the Bronze Age. It suggests that the animal practices of the past were shaped by material and social circumstances far removed from those of modernity. The mutual affordances of bulls and humans have resulted in similar interactions, or bull games, in different societies, but modern archaeologists have tended to downplay the relationship between bull and leaper in Bronze Age Crete by regarding bull-leaping in purely symbolic terms. An archaeological account informed by Human-Animal Studies can instead bring to the foreground both the familiarity and distinctiveness of past human-animal relationships.

Affiliations: 1: British Museum


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