Minoans and genes

By JW Dowey - 16 May 2013 13:4:15 GMT
Minoans and genes

Long after (probably 7,000 years later) that first Neolithic colonisation, the flowering of the, "Great Island" led to a dominating Bronze Age culture. Some of the most evocative remains of Crete are frescoes, including those on Thera. Boys here show us hair styles, sport interest (apart from the bull leaping!) and jewellery. If only we could know more, but perhaps we can; Minoan Art Image; Credit: © Shutterstock

Correcting mistakes made by early archaeologists is hardly the mainstream of science - there are so many! The use of genetic tools to solve crimes, enable rare species to avoid extinction and even to resuscitate the genotype of an extinct mammoth might seem quite exciting though! Nobody is suggesting that we should carry out more and more extreme manipulation in the name of "science".

This paper is involved with the ancestors of many Europeans (more than we thought, it seems) and therefore many other peoples too.

If you don't know it, Crete is an island stuck between Africa and Greece, quite close to both. This enabled a magnificent early attempt at Mediterranean trade domination, with plenty of evidence of movement around most of the large Sea's coasts. From 9,000 years ago, riches seem to have begun to flow around Crete, creating what the early Greeks called the Great Island and one of the first European cultures.

But who were these early colonisers? Arthur Evans the early archaeologist made the mistake that others did at Troy and in Egypt. He assumed he knew, but he didn't have the necessary tools to make such arrogant assertions. Neither did we, until recent genetic techniques helped us to start investigating skulls, teeth, skin and several other tissues. Although science will extend the never-ending story for us in the future, we live at a time that Evans and his like would have enjoyed - hopefully!

On with the show! We now find that the haplotypes (related DNA pieces) had 21 DNA markers, 6 unique to Minoan Crete and the rest more European.

For 1200 years, people on the plateau lived, bred and are still surviving, after innumerable invasions. Nearest relatives so far include Neolithic Scandinavians and other Europeans, including the modern population. There is no sign of proposed African or Middle Eastern haplotypes beyond the expected common links. Look for yourself on the (b) histogram below and the southern Neolithic seems close, with Western Europe and Portugal, apparently, a good match, compared to Eastern Europe. Who would have known?

(a) Minoan haplotypes shared with the modern or ancient populations. (b) Frequency distribution of the 15 shared Minoan haplotypes among the various modern and ancient population groups

(a) Minoan haplotypes shared with the modern or ancient populations. (b) Frequency distribution of the 15 shared Minoan haplotypes among the various modern and ancient population groups; Credit: © Nature Communications

The next step is to investigate nuclear DNA, which significantly differs from the maternal inheritance that mitochondrial DNA offers. We look forward to looking so far back in the history of the colonisation of Neolithic Europe.

Contributing to the paper were Thrace, California(Salinas), Troy(NYC), Seattle and Heraklion! These locations simply provided the talent in the form of their institutions, especially involving Jeffery R. Hughey and the Stamatoyannopoulos brothers (thanks to George for his help with this article).

The full paper has been published and can be found in Nature Communications.

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Topics: Evolution