May 14, 2013

mtDNA from Minoan Crete (Hughey et al. 2013)

A very exciting (and open access) new paper on Minoan mtDNA adds new ancient DNA data from the southeastern corner of Europe and from a critical period at the beginning of European history.

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).

On the other hand, the similarities between the Minoans and other ancient European mtDNA samples probably testifies to Minoans being indeed related to the Neolithic population of Europe. This is particularly interesting in the case of Minoan Crete, which may have been visited in pre-Neolithic times, but  was permanently settled only during the Neolithic, thus minimizing the possibility of an inclusion of a Paleolithic substratum as may be the case in parts of continental Europe.

Supplementary Table S2 shows haplogroup designations of the Minoan individuals which seems to encompass a wide variety:
One thing to note is the absence of mtDNA haplogroup N1a that so typifies central European Neolithic, and also the presence of some haplogroup U5a/U which seems typical of Paleolithic Europeans. I'd be interested in hearing any additional observations people might have on this data.

From the paper:

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.



batman said...

U5 is anyhow solidly rooted in the paleolitic north - anyhow.

Dean said...

I recall a Y DNA study of the Lassithi Plateau, and the male inhabitants had less frequencies of haplogroups E and J2 than other parts of Crete. I can't read the supplementary material in the link (too blurry) for Minoan maternal haplogroups. Is it fair to say that many of the males are imports, and the females are indigenous?

Dr Rob said...

The study is good in that it demonstrates that, to begin with, a near -virgin colonized landscape would posses a diversity of lineages

eurologist said...

Is it fair to say that many of the males are imports, and the females are indigenous?


Obviously, both are "imports" - but the time frames are likely different. With such a wide range of female haplogroups, it looks to me that Crete received input from not only the Levant/Cardium but also from NW Anatolian/ Balkan neolithic, and likely some more during the early local Bronze Age - probably Greece mainland/ Balkan, which at that time was a lot more cosmopolitan than during the neolithic and also included contributions from the north.

For the men, I assume that there were many late-comers from around the eastern Mediterranean but, today, also a little bit from the many countries that tried to set up military bases or tried to occupy Crete - including recent history.

I have visited Crete a couple of times. It is interesting that you get a little bit of that Sicilian feeling, where locals (despite being extremely friendly to visitors) apparently have been able to shrug off any intruders over millennia, almost at a village-by-village basis (but at least local regional level).

[Anecdotally, the most beautiful young women I have ever seen in real life was in a bus on Crete. IIRC, she entered in Agios Ioannis and exited in Agkouseliana. ;)]

It's a bit of a stretch and not meant to be 100% serious, but perhaps the first sea-going farmers or their transporters where like the submarine officers of WWII, or astronauts since. If they knew what they were doing and could demonstrate that trough successful journeys (and hence were successful and successfully reproducing), they might have been able to attract the fittest and smartest and most beautiful women.

Mark D said...

I believe there are literally thousands of Neolithic remains stored in vaults across European universities and museums that have not been DNA tested. I believe this is the key to understanding human migration patterns.

As to positively refuting the Evans North African hypothesis, again aDNA from North Africa needs to be found and tested. You may be right Dienekes that the Neolithic expansion swept through North Africa along the coast from the Middle East before sub-Saharan peoples journeyed across the desert. Historic references are replete with such migration, why not Neolithic?

AdygheChabadi said...

Looks like a fairly typical case of cultural and linguistic replacement...the "Minoans" never went anywhere...they are still present, at least, genetically.

You see this phenomenon prominently in populations called "Arab". For instance, Egyptians (genetically present and the language (Coptic) survives in tiny enclaves), North Africans (the Berbers...technically, (singular) Amazigh [Amazir], (plural) Imazighen [Imaziren]), Lebanese (descendants of the Phoenicians or their predecessors), so on and so forth, you get the point.

shenandoah said...

@Dean: "I can't read the supplementary material in the link (too blurry)..."

I had the same issue, but found a way to get around it:

1- Copy image to Desktop

2- Open the image into the photo-editor

3- Zoom in on it (it retains its original digital quality and is very legible that way)

Roy King said...

This is an extremely important paper in that it shows continuity using ancient mtDNA between Minoans and other Mediterranean and Anatolian populations. I was very impressed by the connection between the Minoans and the Anatolian Byzantines from Pisidia (Sagalassos) in SW Anatolia (figure 6a). Our modern Y chromosome results showed a connection between Crete and Central Anatolia which might be mirrored in these ancient mtDNA results.

Onur said...

For instance, Egyptians (genetically present and the language (Coptic) survives in tiny enclaves)

Coptic did not survive as a spoken language (Copts completely switched to Egyptian Arabic as spoken language); it is today a purely liturgical language.

andrew said...

The really striking thing is that Minoan mtDNA is a very poor fit to "first wave Neolithic" ancient DNA like LBK and Cardium Pottery, despite the fact that Crete was settled very early in the Neolithic. This mtDNA looks much more like Chalcolithic/early Bronze Age ancient Southern European mtDNA. There is more than one possiblity for why this is the case:

(1) Crete was settled from "core" Neolithic areas, while first wave Neolithic expansions derived from "frontier" Neolithic areas followed by later Neolithic expansions from "core" Neolithic areas, because Crete was much closer to the core geographically.

(2) The Minoan civilization more or less completely replaced the first wave Neolithic population of Crete (paralleling the demographic replacement seen in much of continental LBK and CP territory) in a late Copper/early Bronze Age migration from Anatolia, but Crete's assimilation into the Mycenaean Greek sphere didn't have much of a demographic impact (i.e. the cultural/linguistic shift was faciliated by a small number of elite individuals who managed to impose/induce these changes in the substrate popuplation).

In the second scenario, the interpretation might be that the first wave Neolithic waves and the "core" Neolithic area may actually have had similar mtDNA mixes and that the second wave Neolithic migrations to places including Crete eminated not from the Neolithic revolution's fertile crescent core, but from the core of the geographic areas where the new Copper/Bronze Age package of technologies gave those populations an edge over farmers who had only stone at their disposal. Crete would be a likely place for a disproportionate level of population replacement in the Chalcolithic because it had abundant local copper bearing ore resources which earlier Minoan populations did not know how to exploit except in ornamental and decorative uses without processing. It would have been more attractive for a copper mining and processing civilization to develop as a center of its culture than anywhere else in the Aegean or Levantine region.

The description I give to the respective possibilities pretty well shows my cards favoring the second explanation over the first. Thus, while there is Minoan civilization to modern civilization genetic continuity, the possibility of genetic discontinuity upon the rise of Minoan civilization (sometime ca. 3700 BCE-2700 BCE, as opposed to 7000 BCE when it is first colonized) paralleling the discontinuity seen elsewhere at that point seems quite plausible.

* As an aside, the minority view linguistic speculations at the end of the paper (e.g. undue credence given to Renfew's Anatolian hypothesis), somewhat tarnish the otherwise excellent paper and give the results a somewhat misleading spin.

Dr Rob said...

@ AgghydeChadaba

"The Minoans never went anywhere''

Yes they did. The Minoans are gone. Their very fabric of social, political and religious life 'disappeared' thousands of years ago when it was wholly re-structured

No one is surprised that some aspects of their genetic make up are similar to modern Cretans, goven that the Minoan people did not simple 'evaporate' .

That's one problem with ancient DNA is when people who dont really understand the cultural anthropology of identity and ethnicity start misinterpreting 'genetic evidence'

@ Andrew
you raise good points
The whole thing about Neolithic mirgations is, western and northern Anatolia appear to have been scantily populated in early Neolithic. So where did all the farmers come from ? There is no real evidence for a population shift from Anatolia to the Aegean / Balkans.

The most recent models propose that migration was at the level of individual households, wach from possibly very different areas of the near east, spoeaking different languages. IT was a small0scale , piece -meal immigration of small groups. Some from Anatolia, some from Syria. Some went to Crete, some to central - southern Balkans.

The real population growth in Balkans began in Late Neolithic, and this was more due to local growth and 'infilling.'

ssas said...

Why did they use some old classification of mtDNA? There is already no T3, T5, etc, everything is T2.
Since they did the full mtDNA sequencing, why did not refine the haplogroups further, but only plain K, etc.
Same way they only compared the HVR1 with different European populations, which we know may comprise different branches.
The right thing to do is compare with mtDNA sequences in Genbank. Maybe somebody will bother to do it according to the published data.
Here is a direct link to the supplementary information:

Rokus said...

Again I'm afraid the 'Mesolithic Blind Spot' is at work here. The high correlation of Minoan mtDNA with western Europe, Germany and Neolithic Scandinavia confirms the involvement of the European Mid-Neolithic, that in turn derives from some western Mesolithic cultures rather than the earlier phases of the Neolithic. This western affiliation at Lassithi Plateau was previously dismissed as the result of Italian colonialism. I remember I once crossed my sword with Dienekes on this subject :)
In an earlier comment I wrote about the Mesolithic issue that I adhere to the current archeological insight that reconstruct a continued Mesolithic presence in "some" key regions that coexisted with separate Neolithic groups. That is, the native hunter-gatherer groups that evolved into the main cultural bearers of the Middle Neolithic don’t necessarily represent the complete legacy of earlier Mesolithic expansions. Those Mesolithic groups that had already fully adapted to the Neolithic way of life may have become bottlenecked together with the Danubian population they merged with, while the Mesolithic groups of many geographic other locations that didn’t adapt may have disappeared altogether. However, a growing body of evidence indicates the dramatic population crash that terminated the “Danubian” Early Neolithic was survived by some groups of Late Mesolithic origin that continued to thrive and ultimately entered a new (Middle-) Neolithic phase several centuries later, that in turn evolved more gradually into the pan-European Late Neolithic Beaker groups. One such candidate Mesolithic key region may be Swifterbant in NW Europe.

Hence I propose to reconsider this results in the light of Late Neolithic Beaker influences in Crete, that have already been confirmed eg. in Heyd's otherwise partisian publication on the subject. Albeit without neglecting the much older Neolithic substrate.

AdygheChabadi said...

@ Onur:

"tiny enclaves" + Wikipedia: "Today, Coptic is the native language of only about 300 Copts around the world." Not dead Egypt because of certain "aggression" it is leaving with the Copts who once spoke it their...very of the earliest Christian nations is losing what should be an immensely treasured piece of it's very illustrious past, but we know why it is happening. Not safe to say it...but we know why. The same is happening to Christians all across the Middle East. Neo-Aramaic may, very sadly, fall extinct because of certain "aggressions" as well.

@ Dr. Rob

I think I made my point by giving examples and by stating it was a "fairly typical case of linguistic and cultural replacement".

I fully well understand ethnicity and culture. As a Jew...I am WELL AWARE of what all of that means. Being the only ethnicity (Jews) on the planet to have their ethnic origins repeatedly and, oftentimes, laughably called into question because of utterly uneducated and irrational hatreds makes me more than qualified on that issue (granted that I have studied my people extensively for my own knowledge). I know the genetics topic fairly well as well. My specialty is more on the linguistic side however.

Before you make sure to query why a statement was made. This way you may understand the point of view from which it was drawn. That tends to help everyone involved.

Can we surmise that because the Egyptians lost their language and culture to the spread of Islam...that the Egyptians just went poof into nothingness and that no more of them exists? That many millions of Arabs magically materialized out of the deserts of Arabia and replaced them? The genetic evidence says, very strongly, that this did not, in anyway, happen. Just because a people lose their language and culture due to conquest or some "other" does not eliminate their obvious origin, especially, if there was minor genetic intrusion as is Egypt's case. As for the Minoans...that holds obviously true only to degree though. So your point is duly noted (outside of the insult to my intellect).

I find this interesting. "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)."

This seems to corroborate linguistic evidence that the Greeks encountered, on their way from the north moving south through the "Greek" peninsula, a non-Greek, non-Indo-European people from which the Greeks borrowed substantial amounts of their lexicon from. A more advanced and knowledgeable people (no offense). These people were likely either "Minoan" or strongly "Minoan"-related people based on the linguistic substratal evidence.

@Roy King

This may interest you...

Mikheil Abramishvili:
In search of the origins of metallurgy – An overview of South Caucasian evidence

"The second and the third phases of the Trialeti Middle Bronze Age Culture show exceptionally close relations with the Aegean and therefore deserve special emphasis. Although it is not a subject of this paper, I still want to emphasize that, besides archaeological facts, there are also linguistic data and mythological tales, which make it obvious that relations between South Caucasia and the Aegean existed in one way or another well before the Classical Period, and which reflect a historical reality."

aeolius said...

Just as Anthropology is reaping the rewards of genetics, epigenetics has come along to complicate matters. Just as wine grapes vary with micro-environmental differences, neolithic-level humans must have had micro-environmental adaptation. Most probably epigenetically. And to me the most probable transmission of these adaptations is in that area least open to outside influence. That is early mother-child and family-child interactions.
We know how first language learning is different then later language learning. And I am confident that this period is also when micro-cultural learning occurs.

Dr Rob said...

"AdygheChabadi said..."

I admire your personal researches, mean to insult your, I'm very sure, above average intellect.

However, perhaps there'd be less confusion if your wording showed a greater insight into post-modern anthropological thought. And perhaps a slightly thicker skin would also serve you well so you do not faint at the slightest query on one of your statements :)

Creative said...

The female diversity within Minoans gives me a patriarchal vibe of a society becoming increasingly complex, concentrating on male abilities like a variety of different craftsmanship’s.
Maybe in contrast to LBK who were likely more selective in there community’s, due to the fact that they wanted to maintain and separate their farming knowledge from Hunter-gatherers. I would presume that males and females in the LBK would have a similar level of knowledge and chores in regard to agricultural processes, as mean of survival.
Something that maybe not of essential importance for a craftsmanship like a metallurgist producing for trade. He would also have a wider range of possibilities and choices of taking a bride.

An interesting viewpoint of regional History especially in regard to the Americas…

AdygheChabadi said...

@Dr. Rob

Again, duly noted. You are correct. I bristled and should not have. My sincere apologies to you.


What about the Americas did I say??? hahaha

John Muccigrosso said...

Some comments from me here:

I wonder most about the absence of real comparative ancient data, esp. from North Africa, given the conclusions the authors reach.

Onur said...

"tiny enclaves" + Wikipedia: "Today, Coptic is the native language of only about 300 Copts around the world." Not dead Egypt because of certain "aggression" it is leaving with the Copts who once spoke it their...very of the earliest Christian nations is losing what should be an immensely treasured piece of it's very illustrious past, but we know why it is happening. Not safe to say it...but we know why. The same is happening to Christians all across the Middle East. Neo-Aramaic may, very sadly, fall extinct because of certain "aggressions" as well.

That Wikipedia article does not provide any source for that assertion. No where else have I seen any assertion that Coptic survived as a spoken language; rather the opposite: all the sources I have read on the topic agree that Coptic has been extinct as a spoken language for some centuries now.

Jeff said...

But where did the Neolithic inhabitants of Crete originate?

I still favor southwest Anatolia, based on that old place-name theory.