For the first time, scientists have obtained and analyzed genome sequences from the ancient Minoans and Mycenaeans, who lived three to five thousand years ago and were Europe’s first civilized people.
The new analysis suggests that the Minoans and Mycenaeans share a great deal of their genetic heritage.
Dr Iosif Lazaridis, from Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts, and colleagues focused on burials from the Minoan civilization, which flourished on the island of Crete from 2,600 to 1,100 BC, and the Mycenaean culture, which has existed across Greece from 1,600 -1,100 BC.
Dr Lazaridis explained that most of the people who created these civilizations appear to be local – deriving between 62% and 86% of their ancestry from people who introduced agriculture to Europe from Anatolia (modern Turkey) in Neolithic times, starting from about 7,000 years ago.
But the Bronze Age Mycenaean and Minoan skeletons revealed ancestry from populations originating in either the Caucasus mountains or Iran. Between 9% and 17% of their genetic make-up came from this source.
In addition, the team’s paper in Nature journal reports, the Mycenaeans – but not the Minoans – show evidence of genetic input from people who lived further north, on the flat grasslands that stretch from eastern Europe to Central Asia. Between 4% and 16% of their ancestry came from this northern source.
While the Mycenaeans are known to have spoken an early form of Greek, the earliest recorded language spoken by the Minoan people on Crete – known as Linear A – can be read but not be translated, implying that it belongs to a distinct, but unknown, group of languages.