|22 May 2013
Minoans originated in Europe, not Egypt
The Minoan culture - famous for the myth of the half-man, half-bull, Minotaur in the labyrinth - emerged on the Mediterranean island of Crete, and flourished for more than a thousand years from about 2700 BCE to 1420 BCE, building Europe's first advanced civilisation. By comparing DNA from 4,000-year-old Minoan skeletons found in a sealed cave on Crete's Lassithi Plateau with that of people from modern Crete, and throughout Europe and Africa, a long-held theory that the ancient Minoans came from Egypt has been disproved.
Study co-author George Stamatoyannopoulos - a human geneticist at the University of Washington, USA - says: "We now know that the founders of the first advanced European civilisation were European. They were very similar to Neolithic Europeans and very similar to present-day Cretans".
It is likely, says Stamatoyannopoulos, that the Minoans descended from Neolithic populations that migrated to Europe from the Middle East and Turkey. Archaeological excavations suggest that early farmers were living in Crete by around 9,000 years ago, so these could be the ancestors of the Minoans. Similarities between Minoan and Egyptian artefacts were probably the result of cultural exchanges across the navigable Mediterranean Sea, rather than wholesale migrations.
Stamatoyannopoulos notes that his team's findings are limited, because mitochondrial DNA represents only a single maternal lineage for each individual - a mother's mother, and so on. With Johannes Krause, a palaeo-geneticist at the University of Tubingen in Germany, the team now plans to sequence the nuclear genomes of Minoans and other ancients to learn more about their history.
Wolfgang Haak, a molecular archaeologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, thinks that Crete's early history is probably more complicated, with multiple Neolithic populations arriving at different times.
Some believe a massive volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini doomed the Bronze Age civilisation, while others argue that invading Mycenaeans toppled the once-great power.
Edited from Discovery.com (14 May 20134), Scientific American (15 May 2013)
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