DNA reveals the origin of Greece’s ancient Minoan culture. Europe’s first advanced civilization was local in origin and not imported from elsewhere, the study in 2013 said.
Analysis of DNA from ancient remains on the Greek island of Crete suggests the Minoans were indigenous Europeans, shedding new light on a debate over the provenance of this ancient culture.
Scholars have variously argued the Bronze Age civilization arrived from Africa, Anatolia or the Middle East.
Now, a team of researchers in the United States and Greece has used mitochondrial DNA analysis of Minoan skeletal remains to determine the likely ancestors of these ancient people.
This study analysed the DNA of 37 individuals buried in a cave on the Lassithi plateau in the island’s east. The majority of the burials are thought to date to the middle of the Minoan period – around 3,700 years ago.
The analysis focused on mitochondrial DNA, extracted from the teeth of the skeletons,
They then compared the frequencies of distinct mtDNA lineages, known as “haplogroups”, in this ancient Minoan set with similar data for 135 other populations, including ancient samples from Europe and Anatolia as well as modern peoples.
The comparison seemed to rule out an origin for the Minoans in North Africa: the ancient Cretans showed little genetic similarity to Libyans or the Egyptians. They were also genetically distant from populations in the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudis, and Yemenis.
The ancient Minoan DNA was most similar to populations from western and northern Europe. The population showed particular genetic affinities with Bronze Age populations from Sardinia and Iberia and Neolithic samples from Scandinavia and France.
They also resembled people who live on the Lassithi Plateau today, a population that has previously attracted attention from geneticists.
The authors, therefore conclude that the Minoan civilization was a local development, originated by inhabitants who probably reached the island around 9,000 years ago, in Neolithic times.
The researchers found that the Minoan skeletons were genetically very similar to modern-day Europeans – and especially close to modern-day Cretans.
They were also genetically similar to Neolithic Europeans. The Minoan shared the greatest percentage of their mitochondrial DNA variation with European populations, especially those in Northern and Western Europe. None of the Minoans carried mitochondrial DNA variations characteristic of African populations. 9,000 years ago, there was an extensive migration of Neolithic humans from the regions of Anatolia that today comprise parts of Asia Minor (today’s Turkey) and the Middle East.
At the same time, the first Neolithic inhabitants reached Crete. Mitochondrial DNA analysis shows that the Minoan’s strongest genetic relationships are with these Neolithic humans, as well as with ancient and modern Europeans, Results suggest the Minoan civilization
arose 5,000 years ago in Crete from an ancestral Neolithic population that had arrived in the region about 4,000 years earlier.
Data suggest that the Neolithic population that gave rise to the Minoans also migrated into Europe and gave rise to modern European peoples.
“There has been all this controversy over the years. But we have shown how the analysis of DNA can help archaeologists and historians put things straight,” Prof Stamatoyannopoulos told BBC News.
The Minoans are Europeans and are also related to present-day Cretans and Europeans
In addition, Minoan DNA has been found even in northeastern Sweden. “These data show that the ancient DNA is found not only in Greece but also in all areas, which were colonized by Greeks and indirectly prove that their inhabitants are descendants of the ancient Greeks.”