Ancient DNA reveals origins of Europe’s first civilization

Ancient DNA reveals origins of Europe’s first civilization

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New genetic research has shown that the people of the Minoan civilization, which arose on the island of Crete around 5,000 years ago, were native to Europe rather than migrants from ancient Egypt.

The study, published this week in the journal Nature, compared ancient DNA extracted from 4,000-year-old Minoan skeletons with DNA samples from both modern and ancient populations across Europe and Africa.

The Minoan culture flourished in Bronze Age Crete from about 2,700 BC to 1,400 BC and was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of British archaeologist Arthur Evans.  Evans noticed a similarity between Minoan and Egyptian art and believed that the civilization was a result of migration from Egypt or Libya.

To test his hypothesis, the research team analysed the mitochondrial DNA of ancient Minoan skeletons sealed in a cave on Crete’s Lassithi Plateau around 4,000 years ago, and compared them with 135 ancient and modern samples from around Europe and Africa.

They found that the Minoan skeletons were genetically very similar to modern Europeans, especially modern Cretans and today’s inhabitants of the Lassithi Plateau.  They were also genetically similar to Neolithic Europeans.  They were, however, quite distinct from Egyptian and Libyan populations, suggesting that the Minoans enjoyed cultural rather than population exchanges with their North African neighbours.

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