Research highlight

Genomics: Of Mycenaeans and Minoans


August 3, 2017

Ancient genomic data from 19 European and Anatolian individuals, including Mycenaeans from mainland Greece and Minoans from Crete, are reported online in Nature this week. The findings provide new clues into the origins of these two prominent archaeological cultures that emerged in the Aegean during the Bronze Age and which were first known through ancient poetic and historical traditions, beginning with Homer and Herodotus.

Ancient DNA research has traced the primary ancestors of early European farmers to the highly similar Neolithic populations who lived in Greece and western Anatolian from the 7th millennium BC. The later history of these regions down to the Bronze Age is less clear, and many questions remain, including the degree of genetic affinity between mainland and Crete populations and how both groups related to other ancient populations from Europe and to Modern Greeks.

Iosif Lazaridis and colleagues analyse genome-wide data from 19 ancient individuals, including 10 Minoans from Crete dating to around 2900-1700 BC, 4 Mycenaeans from the Greek mainland dating to around 1700-1200 BC, and 3 individuals from southwestern Anatolia dating to around 2800-1800 BC. They find that Minoans and Mycenaeans were genetically very similar, with about three-quarters shared ancestry with the first Neolithic farmers of western Anatolia and the Aegean and most of the remainder from ancient populations like those from the Caucasus and Iran. Unlike the Minoans, however, the Mycenaeans also showed additional ancestry related to Bronze Age inhabitants of the Eurasian steppe (the region encompassing Eastern Europe and North Eurasia). Their analyses also find that Modern Greeks share ancestry with the Mycenaeans but with some additional dilution of the early Neolithic ancestry.

doi: 10.1038/nature23310

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