Genetic origins of Minoans and Mycenaeans and their continuity into modern Greeks


A new article has appeared in Nature, Genetic origins of the Minoans and Mycenaeans, by Lazaridis et al. (2017), referenced by Science.


The origins of the Bronze Age Minoan and Mycenaean cultures have puzzled archaeologists for more than a century. We have assembled genome-wide data from 19 ancient individuals, including Minoans from Crete, Mycenaeans from mainland Greece, and their eastern neighbours from southwestern Anatolia. Here we show that Minoans and Mycenaeans were genetically similar, having at least three-quarters of their ancestry from the first Neolithic farmers of western Anatolia and the Aegean, and most of the remainder from ancient populations related to those of the Caucasus3 and Iran. However, the Mycenaeans differed from Minoans in deriving additional ancestry from an ultimate source related to the hunter–gatherers of eastern Europe and Siberia, introduced via a proximal source related to the inhabitants of either the Eurasian steppe or Armenia. Modern Greeks resemble the Mycenaeans, but with some additional dilution of the Early Neolithic ancestry. Our results support the idea of continuity but not isolation in the history of populations of the Aegean, before and after the time of its earliest civilizations.

Samples are scarce, and there is only one Y-DNA haplogroup of Mycenaeans, J2a1 (in Galatas Apatheia, ca. 1700-1200), which shows continuity of haplogroups from Minoan samples, so it does not clarify the potential demic diffusion of Proto-Greeks marked by R1b subclades.

Regarding admixture analyses, it is explicitly or implicitly (according to the press release) stated that:

  • There is continuity between Mycenaeans and living people, so that the major components of the Greeks’ ancestry was in place already in the Bronze Age, after the migration of the earliest farmers from Anatolia.
  • Anatolians may have been the source of “eastern” Caucasian ancestry in Mycenaeans, and maybe of early Indo-European languages (i.e. earlier than Proto-Greek) in the region.
  • The “northern” steppe population (speaking a Late Indo-European dialect, then) had arrived only in mainland Greece, with a 13-18% admixture, by the time studied.
  • Samples before the Final Neolithic (ca. 4100 BC) do not possess either type of ancestry, suggesting that the admixture detected occurred during the fourth to second millennium BC.
  • Admixture from Levantine or African influence (i.e. Egyptian or Phoenician colonists) cannot be supported with admixture.

All in all, there is some new interesting information, and among them the possibility of obtaining ancient DNA from arid regions, which is promising for future developments in the field.

EDIT (20/8/2017): The article received widespread media attention, and two blog posts were linked to by the main author in his Twitter account: Who are you calling Mycenaean?, and On genetics and the Aegean Bronze Age. Apart from the obviously wrong reductio ad Hitlerum that pops up in any discussion on Indo-Europeans or genetics (even I do it regarding fans of admixture analysis), I don’t know why these created so much fuss (and hate) among geneticists. There seems to be a war brewing between Archaeology and Genetics.

Razib Khan writes The Revolution Which Came To Archaeology Without Archaeologists?, and I guess this is how many people feel in the field, but if they had studied some minimal archaeology of the samples they are studying they would know that their conclusions would come as no surprise, in any case. They can solve old archaeological questions, and they can help create new hypothesis. That’s it. Regarding the study Mr. Khan believes did come as a surprise to archaeologists, that on Bell Beakers, I would like to remind him of the predictions Volker Heyd did about genetics already in 2007, based only on Archaeology.


Featured map: samples studied, from the article.

The over-simplistic “Kossinian Model”: homogeneous peoples speaking a common language within clearly delimited cultures


There seems to be a growing trend to over-simplistic assumptions in archaeology and linguistics, led by amateur and professional geneticists alike, due to the recent (only partially deserved) popularity of Human Evolutionary Biology.

These studies are offering ancient DNA samples, whose Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups and admixture analyses are showing some new valuable information on ancient cultures and peoples. However, their authors are constantly giving uninformed conclusions.

I have read a good, simple description of the Kossinnian model in the book Balkan Dialogues (Routledge, 2017), which has been shared to be fully read online by co-editor Maria Ivanova.

Chapter 3, The transitions between Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in Greece, and the “Indo-European problem”, by Jean-Paul Demoule, offers a clear account of the difficulties found in tracing the arrival of Proto-Greek speakers to Greece or the “Coming of the Greeks”. The identifications of cultural breaks most commonly supported by academics as potentially signaling the arrival of Proto-Greeks are cited, including the Early Helladic III period ca. 2300 BC (with the diffusion of Mynian ware), or the Middle Helladic period ca. 2000 BC. The problem of finding a clear cultural break before the emergence of Mycenaean Greece (which obviously spoke an early Greek dialect) has led some to adopt a “Palaeolithic autochthonous theory” (Giannopoulos 2012), which offers still more problems than it solves.

Of interest is his reference to Kossina in light of the recent popularity in resorting to DNA to answer all problems. It is mandatory for the field of Indo-European studies – regardless of what renown labs and journals of high impact factor are publishing – to avoid carrying on “in the steps of race based cranial measurement which enjoyed its floruit in the 19th century before fading into oblivion.”

This is why, without denying the relationship between Indo-European languages, we need to question the validity of the overall model itself, which has shown itself to be over-simplistic in assuming the movement of permanent and long-lasting homogeneous “peoples”. More precisely, we have to criticize in details the “Kossinnian Model” underlying all those assumptions – “Kossinnian”, because of the German archaeologist Gustaf Kossina (1858–1931), well known for the famous sentence: “Cultural provinces, which are clearly delimited on the basis of archaeology, correspond in every era to specific peoples or tribes” (“Scharf umgrenzte archäologische Kultur-provinzen decken sich zu allen Zeiten mit ganz bestimmten Völkern und Völkerstämmen”). Four basic assumptions arise from this central idea:

  1. Changes in languages are due to population movements, usually involving conquest, and every migration implies a linguistic change.
  2. Archaeological “cultures” are homogenous ethnic groups, with defined frontiers, based on the model of 19th- and 20th-century nation-states and equally on the model of biological entities that reproduce by parthenogenesis.
  3. There is coincidence between language and material culture.
  4. Finally, languages are also homogenous biological entities which are autonomous and clearly delimited, and which can reproduce by parthenogenesis or by scissiparity.

Unfortunately, none of these points is self-evident and each can be countered by a number of historical examples (Demoule 2014: 553–592).

While I agree with the first part of the first statement attributed to the “Kossinnian model”, i.e. that languages are usually the product of population movements (either involving conquest or not), the other statements are obviously and demonstrably false, and are frequently assumed in comments, blog posts, forums, and even research articles – particularly in those based on genetic studies -, and this trend seems to be increasing lately.

How many words do we use in daily speech? A new study from the Royal Spanish Academy on language acquisition

According to the members of the Royal Spanish Academy (the Real Academia Española), humanities have experienced a decrease in importance for younger generations, English is becoming predominant, language in general is poorer in the Media and in all public speeches, classical languages disappear, people play less attention to reading, and computer terms are invading everything.

All involved in the research agree that language cannot be confined to any artificial limits, that it is mutable, it evolves and changes. However, they warn: it can also get sick and degrade. The mean Spaniard uses generally no more than 1000 words, and only the most educated individuals reach 5000 common words. Some young people use only 240 words daily.

Linguists, paedagogues and psychologists say those who write correctly demonstrate they’ve had an adecuate education, they’ve read books and they’ve exercized their minds. Thanks to that mental exercise we can achieve more elevated stages of reasoning and culture. Those who cannot understand something as basic as his own natural language will not achieve a big progress in his intellectual life, they assure.

Now, regarding those numbers and the concept behind the output of that study: would you say learning mixed conlangs like Esperanto – whose supposed benefits are precisely the ease of use, by taking the most common and simplest European vocabulary – could improve that worsening situation? Or do you think it’s better for European culture‘s sake to learn the ancient language from which Old Latin, Gaulish, Old Norse or Old Slavonic derived? It is probably not the main reason to adopt Europe’s Indo-European as the official language of the European Union, but it is certainly another great reason to learn it without being compelled to…

Source: Terra; read in Menéame

WordPress Translation Plugin – now using Google Translation from and into Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Norwegian, Polish, Czech, Romanian, Bulgarian, Hindi, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, etc.

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WordPress Translation Plugin: ‘Indoeuropean Translator Widget’ – now also Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Polish, Greek, Russian, Polish, Romanian, Finnish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, …

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