Minoans, First Advanced European Civilization, Originated From Europe Not Africa

By Gemma Tarlach | May 14, 2013 10:11 am

Ancient jars in Knossos Palace, Greece. Photo by zz1969 / Shutterstock

The Minoans, considered the first advanced civilization in Bronze Age Europe, left behind massive building complexes, stunning artwork and hieroglyphs—but few clues about their origins.

Archaeologists first posited that the Minoans came to the Greek island of Crete from northern Africa, establishing themselves on the island about 5,000 years ago. Subsequent theories suggested Balkan or Middle Eastern origins for the civilization. But research published today in Nature Communications reveals both a more European, and home-grown, development.

Researchers obtained mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from the skeletons of 37 well-preserved ancient Minoans found in a cave in east-central Crete. The team compared the mtDNA from the remains with that of 135 modern and ancient populations.

None of the ancient Minoans carried characteristic African mtDNA haplotypes, or stretches of DNA. That rules out a northern African origin, which was first espoused by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in the early 20th century. Evans famously excavated the Minoan palace of Knossos and based his theory on similarities he saw between Minoan and Egyptian art.

Instead, the ancient Minoan mtDNA samples shared the greatest percentage of haplotypes with both ancient and modern European populations. Researchers noted the island of Crete was first settled about 9,000 years ago, which coincides with the development and widespread adoption of agricultural practices in the Middle East and Anatolia. Looking for new land to cultivate, these new farmers spread into Europe—and, it now appears, to Crete.

Once settled on the island, according to the study, the farmers with ancestral roots in Anatolia and the Middle East developed their own indigenous culture, which evolved into the Minoan civilization.

Although today’s paper focused solely on mtDNA similarities, it is possible to explain similarities in Minoan civilization, including its art, with that of ancient northern Africa as the result of established trade routes.

MORE ABOUT: archaeology, crete, minoan
  • SixSixSix

    Obviously there is a difference between cultural and genetic transmission.

  • http://www.myspace.com/_lovedaddy_ JohnnyMorales

    mtDNA is inherited solely from the mother.

    So for this article to interpret the findings as proof of only European roots for the Minoans is absurd.

    What it demonstrates is the females were that, but does not prove or disprove anything about the male originators of the minoan civilization.

    The men let’s imagine were Egyptian in origin, and left Egypt for whatever reason perhaps population pressures forced them to leave.

    Eventually they landed on Crete encountering people already living there with their own civilization pre-Minoan in nature.

    Upon deciding to settle there permanently, they would have then taken local women as wives.

    The resultant children would all exclusively carry the mtDNA of their mother, and an analysis of that would NOT demonstrate their father’s Egyptian connection.

    Their children would have also probably fused the culture of the two and that could have been the foundation for the Minoan civilization.

    In ancient Egypt there is no evidence of women regularly going on sea voyages save for that one famous pharoah who was a woman who visited Punt I think.

    That means all during the development of the Minoan civilization as well as during its height Egyptian men could have migrated to Crete and taken Minoan women as wives and NO amount of analysis of mtDNA would indicate that ever happened.

    • minoan

      Minoans are 100% European-descendants. Don’t be jelly.


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