DNA studies disprove Minoan migration theory

A fresco found at the Minoan site of Knossos
A fresco found at the Minoan site of Knossos (via Wikipedia)

Following the discovery of Troy by Heinrich Schliemann, Arthur Evans, a British archaeologist found a older civilization on the island of Crete. The Cretans did not speak Greek, but they had considerable influence on Greek civilization. Later named Minoans, this civilization lasted 1350 years and had its peak following the decline of the Indus-Saraswati civilization. The Minoans were wealthy; they built palace complexes and produced decorated silver vessels, daggers and pottery for local use and export.
Like the case with Vedic speakers, there was considerable dispute over the origins of the Minoans. Arthur Evans suggested that they came from North Egypt when the region was conquered by Narmer. Others proposed Cycladic, Balkan, Anatolian and Middle Eastern origins. Now DNA studies have shown that the Minoans did not migrate from elsewhere, but originated from the Neolithic population that had settled in the region.

Our calculations of genetic distances, haplotype sharing and principal component analysis (PCA) exclude a North African origin of the Minoans. Instead, we find that the highest genetic affinity of the Minoans is with Neolithic and modern European populations. We conclude that the most likely origin of the Minoans is the Neolithic population that migrated to Europe about 9,000 YBP. We propose that the Minoan civilization most likely was developed by the autochthonous population of the Bronze Age Crete.[A European population in Minoan Bronze Age Crete]

With this study, one migration theory bites the dust

  1. Hughey, Jeffery R., Peristera Paschou, Petros Drineas, Donald Mastropaolo, Dimitra M. Lotakis, Patrick A. Navas, Manolis Michalodimitrakis, John A. Stamatoyannopoulos, and George Stamatoyannopoulos. “A European Population in Minoan Bronze Age Crete.” Nature Communications 4 (May 14, 2013): 1861. doi:10.1038/ncomms2871.
  2. Perry, Marvin. Western Civilization: A Brief History, Volume I: To 1789. 10th ed. Cengage Learning, 2012.

Those peaceful Minoans

Fresco of an acrobat on a bull with two female acrobats on either side.
Minoan fresco of an acrobat on a bull with two female acrobats on either side.

Minoans, who lived on the island of Crete, were contemporaries of the Harappans. But unlike the Harappans, they were known more for their monumental palaces and mansions. The civilization came to an end by fire, ash or flooding when the volcano on the Greek island of Santorini blew up. Till recently, it was believed that this civilization was devoid of war and now new evidence suggests it was not so.

“The study shows that the activities of warriors included such diverse things as public displays of bull-leaping, boxing contests, wrestling, hunting, sparring and duelling. Ideologies of war are shown to have permeated religion, art, industry, politics and trade, and the social practices surrounding martial traditions were demonstrably a structural part of how this society evolved and how they saw themselves.”
Molloy found a “staggering” amount of violence in the symbolic grammar and material remains from prehistoric Crete. Weapons and warrior culture were materialised variously in sanctuaries, graves, domestic units and hoards. It could also be found in portable media intended for use during social interactions, for example, administration, feasting, or personal adornment. “There were few spheres of interaction in Crete that did not have a martial component, right down to the symbols used in their written scripts.” said Dr Molloy.

This is interesting because the Harappan civilization is also considered to be a peaceful one; you do not find glorified rulers, or depiction of conquest or warfare. There are no jars or seals depicting battle and no trace of armed conflict. It remains a mystery as to how such a vast domain was governed. One theory is that trade and religion were the instruments of authority and not warfare. But then as Michel Danino writes in The Lost River, only less than 10 per cent of the 1140 Mature Harappan sites have been excavated. The buried ones may have a different story to tell.