The Minoans, the builders of Europe’s first advanced civilization, really were European, new research suggests.
The conclusion, published today (May 14) in the journal Nature Communications, was drawn by comparing DNA from 4,000-year-old Minoan skeletons with genetic material from people living throughout Europe and Africa in the past and today.
“We now know that the founders of the first advanced European civilization were European,” said study co-author George Stamatoyannopoulos, a human geneticist at the University of Washington. “They were very similar to Neolithic Europeans and very similar to present day-Cretans,” residents of the Mediterranean island of Crete.
While that may sound intuitive, the findings challenge a long-held theory that the ancient Minoans came from Egypt.
The Minoan culture emerged on Crete, which is now part of Greece, and flourished from about 2,700 B.C. to 1,420 B.C. Some believe that a massive eruption from the Volcano Thera on the island of Santorini doomed the Bronze Age civilization, while others argue that invading Mycenaeans toppled the once-great power.
Nowadays, the Minoans may be most famous for the myth of the minotaur, a half-man, half-bull that was fabled to lived within a labyrinth in Crete.
The findings suggest that the ancient Minoans were likely descended from a branch of agriculturalists in Anatolia (what is now modern-day Turkey and Iraq) that fanned out into Europe about 9,000 years ago. If so, the Minoans may have spoken a proto-Indo-European language derived from the one possibly spoken by those Anatolian farmers, the researchers speculate.
Knowing that the Minoan language has Indo-European roots could help archaeologists decipher a mysterious Minoan writing system, known as Linear A, Stamatoyannopoulos said.