The amazing discovery of the 'first European civilization' in Crete, Greece and the Aegean islands during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was beyond what anyone had imagined. Beginning with the Neolithic period, before 3000 BCE, and ending at the close of the Bronze Age and the transition to the Iron Age of Hellenic Greece (c.1000 BCE), this is the first comprehensive introduction to the visual arts and architecture of this extraordinary era. This book introduces the reader to the historical and social contexts within which the arts - pottery, gold, silver, and ivory objects, gravestone reliefs, frescoes, and architecture - of the Aegean area developed. It examines the functions they served, and the ways in which they can be read as evidence for the interactions of many different peoples and societies in the eastern Mediterranean. It also provides an up-to-date critical historiography of the field in its relationship to the growth of ancient art history, archaeology, and museology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, giving a contemporary audience a clear appreciation of what has been at stake in the uncovering and reconstruction of this ancient society.