The authors are able to reject Arthur Evans's idea that Minoan civilization had a North African origin, since North Africans bear the least similarity to the Minoans among the considered populations. Of course it's possible that Bronze Age North Africa had not yet experienced Sub-Saharan African gene flow -which probably accounts for its distinctiveness today (no African L mtDNA was found in the Minoan sample).
Supplementary Table S2 shows haplogroup designations of the Minoan individuals which seems to encompass a wide variety:
The PCA analysis also highlights the high affinity of the Minoans to the current inhabitants of the Lassithi plateau as well as Greece. Among the top 10 nearest neighbours to our Minoan population sample, four are Greek populations and two of these from Lassithi prefecture (Fig. 5). The close relationship of the Minoans to modern Cretans is also apparent, when analysis is restricted to populations originating from Greece (Fig. 6b). Particularly in respect to the first PCA (capturing 92% of the variance of this particular subset of the data), the Minoans are extremely close to the modern Lassithi population, the populations from the islands of Chios and Euboea, as well as the populations of Argolis and Lakonia (Southern Greece ) (Fig. 6b). Thus, the modern inhabitants of the Lassithi plateau still carry the maternal genetic signatures of their ancient predecessors of the Minoan population.It seems that there is (at least in terms of mtDNA) continuity in Crete since the Bronze Age, just as there is in Sardinia. And, indeed there appears to be some similarity between Bronze Age Sardinia and Minoan Crete (see Tables S5 and S6 of the supplement).
This is very exciting stuff which was probably made possible -in part- by the preservation of the material in a sealed cave ossuary, but hopefully more ancient DNA is to be had from Greece and surrounding regions.
UPDATE (From Nature News):
It is likely, says Stamatoyannopoulos, that the Minoans descended from Neolithic populations that migrated to Europe from the Middle East and Turkey. Archaeological excavations suggest that early farmers were living in Crete by around 9,000 years ago, so these could be the ancestors of the Minoans. Similarities between Minoan and Egyptian artefacts were probably the result of cultural exchanges across the navigable Mediterranean Sea, rather than wholesale migrations, he adds.
Wolfgang Haak, a molecular archaeologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, thinks that Crete’s early history is probably more complicated, with multiple Neolithic populations arriving at different times. “It's nevertheless good to see some data — if authentic — from this region of Europe contributing to the big and complex puzzle,” he says.
Stamatoyannopoulos notes that his team’s findings are limited, because mitochondrial DNA represents only a single maternal lineage for each individual — a mother’s mother, and so on. With Johannes Krause, a palaeogeneticist at the University of Tubingen in Germany, the team now plans to sequence the nuclear genomes of Minoans and other ancients to learn more about their history.
“For the last 30, 40 years there’s been a growing sense that Minoan Crete was created by people indigenous to the island,” says Cyprian Broodbank, a Mediterranean archaeologist at University College London. He welcomes the latest line of support for this hypothesis. “It’s good to have some of the old assumptions that Minoans migrated from some other high culture scotched,” he says.
Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1861 doi:10.1038/ncomms2871
A European population in Minoan Bronze Age Crete
Jeffery R. Hughey et al.
The first advanced Bronze Age civilization of Europe was established by the Minoans about 5,000 years before present. Since Sir Arthur Evans exposed the Minoan civic centre of Knossos, archaeologists have speculated on the origin of the founders of the civilization. Evans proposed a North African origin; Cycladic, Balkan, Anatolian and Middle Eastern origins have also been proposed. Here we address the question of the origin of the Minoans by analysing mitochondrial DNA from Minoan osseous remains from a cave ossuary in the Lassithi plateau of Crete dated 4,400–3,700 years before present. Shared haplotypes, principal component and pairwise distance analyses refute the Evans North African hypothesis. Minoans show the strongest relationships with Neolithic and modern European populations and with the modern inhabitants of the Lassithi plateau. Our data are compatible with the hypothesis of an autochthonous development of the Minoan civilization by the descendants of the Neolithic settlers of the island.