Origins of Minoans and Mycenaeans revealed by DNA analysis

Researchers analysing the DNA of members of Europe’s first literate Bronze Age societies of Minoans (c. 2600 to 1100 BC) and Mycenaeans (c. 1700 to 1050 BC), revealed the origins of these populations. It turned out that ancestors of both civilisations were populations from Neolithic Western Anatolia and Greece, and that Minoans had deep roots in the Aegean.

Mycenaean tablet with Linar B script, being early form of Greek (by Wikimedia Commons)

The recent study reveals that the two groups were very closely related to each other, and to modern Greeks. The Minoan civilization flourishing on Crete and Aegean islands is described as the first literate society in Europe, with their still deciphered Linear A script.  The Mycenaean civilization originated in mainland Greece eventually controlling the nearby islands, including Crete. Their Linear B script represented an early form of Greek.  The origins of the Minoans have long puzzled researchers, as to whether they originated and flourished on Crete in isolation. The Mycenaeans however, with their roots in mainland Greece, seem to have adopted much of the Minoan technology and culture, but it is not clear how these two groups related. Experts have analysed genome-wide data from 19 individuals, including Minoans, Mycenaeans, a Neolithic individual from mainland Greece, and Bronze Age individuals from Southwestern Anatolia. Their data was compared with 3000 other modern and ancient individuals.

Tablet from Crete with a Linear A script that remains deciphered (by Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers discovered that the Minoans, rather than coming from a distant civilization, were locals, descended from the first Neolithic farmers of western Anatolia and the Aegean. They found that the Minoans and Mycenaeans were very closely related, but with some specific differences that made them distinct from each other. Both the Bronze Age Minoans and Mycenaeans, as well as their neighbours in Bronze Age Anatolia, derived most of their ancestry from a Neolithic Anatolian population, and a smaller component from farther east, related to populations in the Caucasus and Iran. However, although the Minoans have this eastern heritage, they do not show genetic heritage from the northern steppe populations. The Mycenaeans show evidence of both eastern and northern genetic heritage. This indicates that, at least in some cases, this eastern heritage from the Caucasus and Iran arrived in Europe on its own. The migration of the northern steppe pastoralists reached as far as mainland Greece, but did not reach the Minoans on Crete. Neolithic samples from Greece, down to the Final Neolithic, approximately 4100 BC, do not possess either type of ancestry, suggesting that the admixture we detect probably occurred during the 4th-2nd millennium BC time window. Modern Greeks are genetically closely related to the Mycenaeans. Modern Greeks show some additional admixture with other groups and a corresponding decrease in heritage from the Neolithic Anatolians. There were at least two additional migrations in the Aegean before the time of the Minoans and Mycenaeans and some additional admixture later.

(after EurekAlert!, Popular Archaeology & Wikimedia Commons)

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