Whenever family or friends visit us the conversation usually turns to archaeology and the Minoan culture, this is because it is one of the subjects I have an interest in. The main question is usually, what was the Minoans origin as it has always been a mystery until I recently came across the following BBC News Science & Environment report which I thought extremely interesting.
EUROPE’S FIRST ADVANCED CIVILIZATION WAS LOCAL IN ORIGIN AND NOT IMPORTED FROM ELSEWHERE, A STUDY SAYS.
Analysis of DNA from ancient remains on the Greek island of Crete suggests the Minoans were indigenous Europeans, shedding new light have 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.
Details appear in Nature Communications journal.
The concept of the Minoan civilization was first developed by Sir Arthur Evans, the British archaeologist who unearthed the Bronze Age palace of Knossos on Crete. Evans named the people who built these cities after the legendary King Minos who, according to tradition, ordered the construction of a labyrinth on Crete to hold the mythical half-man ,half-bull creature know as the minotaur.
Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos Palace.
Evans was of the opinion that the real-life Bronze Age culture on Crete must have its origins elsewhere, and so he suggested that the Minoans were refugees from Egypt’s Nile delta ,fleeing the region’s conquest by a southern king some 5,000 years ago.
Evans was surprised to find this advanced civilization on Crete,” said co-author George Stamatoyannopoulos,from the University of Washington in Seattle,US. The evidence for this idea included apparent similarities between Egyptian and Minoan art and resemblances between circular tombs built by the inhabitants of southern Crete and those built by ancient Libyans. However other archaeologists have argued for origins in Palestine, Syria or Anatolia.
In this study, Prof Stamatoyannopoulos and colleagues analysed the DNA of 37 individuals buried in a cave on the Lassithi plateau in the islands east. The majority of the burials are thought to date to the middle of the Minoan period- around 3,700 years ago.
Some bones of Minoan people from the Cave burial on the Lassithi Plateau East Crete.
John Lewis and myself working at The Instap Study Centre for East Crete on Minoan skulls from the Cave burial Lassithi Plateau
A close up of Minoan skulls from the Lassithi Plateau burial. John Lewis and I found this a very exciting and interesting project.
The analysis focused on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) extracted from the teeth of the skeletons. This type of DNA is stored in the cell’s (batteries) and is passed down, more or less unchanged from mother to child.
The frequencies were then compared 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 other 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, Egyptians or the Sudanese. 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..
There has been a lot of controversy over the years. We have shown how the analysis of DNA can help archaeologists and historian put things straight, “Prof Stamatoyannopoulos told BBC News.
“The Minoans are Europeans and also related to present- day Cretans- on the maternal side.” He added ” Its obvious that there was very important local development. But it is clear that ,for example, in the art, there were influences from other peoples. So we need to see the Mediterranean as a pool, not as a group of isolated nations.” There is evidence of cultural influence from Egypt and going the other way.”