Minoans Were Europe's First Advanced Civilization, DNA Analysis Says

  • Michael Briggs , Design & Trend Staff Writer
  • May, 14, 2013, 04:38 PM
A mural from the Minoan palace of Knossos. PHOTO: KEREN SU/CORBIS
A mural from the Minoan palace of Knossos. PHOTO: KEREN SU/CORBIS


The Minoans were actually Europe's first advanced civilization, according to new research. 

"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. 

Previously, researchers believed that the Minoan culture emerged in Egypt. British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans famously discovered the Minoan palace of Knossos more than 100 years ago after Crete gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire and was blown away by its beauty. He also believed the similarities to Egyptian art proved the culture was originally from the area. 

"That's why Evans postulated the civilization was imported from Egypt or Libya," Stamatoyannopoulos told LiveScience. 

However, recent DNA samples recovered from Cretan caves suggest that the Minoan civilization emerged from the early farmers who settled Crete. The culture thrived from about 2,700 B.C. to 1,420 B.C on the island, which is part of modern-day Greece.

"It was a period of excitement around the Mediterranean," so while the Minoans likely contacted their African neighbors across the Mediterranean, the similarities seen in artwork were probably the result of cultural exchange, Stamatoyannopoulos said. 

Stamatoyannopoulos and his team used bone and tooth samples from over 100 individuals who resided in Crete between 4,900 and 3,800 years ago for the study. The 37 mitochondrial DNA obtained from the specimens provided no mitochondrial markers to those of modern-day Africans. Instead, they found that of the 21 different mitochondrial markers, 6 were unique to Minoans and 15 were common in modern, Bronze Age and Neolithic European populations. 

The findings were published in in the journal Nature Communications.


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