The Sea Raiders — Part 2

James Thomas
Jun 5, 2013 · 51 min read

The Sea Raiders — Part 2.



The Descendants of the Minoan Cretans still walk amongst us today!

First some very important news for the reader concerning ground breaking discoveries concerning the Minoan Cretans and the true origins of Europe’s first and most mysterious Ancient High Civilization.

001 Court-ladies

( The “Three Minoan Ladies” from the “Blue Frescoe” , Knossos, Crete.).

When Sir Arthur Evans discovered in the early twentieth century, the remnants of the civilization he dubbed ‘Minoan’ was stunned. Trying to give an explanation as to the origin of such an advanced civilization considered that the Minoans were descendants of advanced Egyptians. The idea of ​​Evans is still in force today, although at times there were other proposals.

The final answer to this ancient question given today not by archaeologists, but by genetics teams of researchers led by Professor of Medicine and Genome Sciences Washington University Mr. George Stamatoyannopoulos analyzed DNA samples from the skeletons found in a cave in the Lasithi Plateau Crete which compared with other samples from 135 modern and ancient human populations.

As the researchers report in their article published in the current issue of inspection «Nature Communications», the Minoan civilization developed during the Bronze Age by indigenous inhabitants of Crete, who were descendants of the people who colonized the island approximately 9,000 years ago.

The DNA reveals

The study of mitochondrial DNA, DNA that is present in cellular organelles called mitochondria, which are the power plants of the cell. Mitochondria are passed on to offspring through the mother was found that the mitochondrial DNA of the Minoans did not bring similarities to that of the Egyptians or other African populations. Instead, identified major genetic similarities with modern and ancient European populations. Finally, the analysis showed the highest affinity of the Minoans with the modern Cretan population and modern Greeks from the rest of the country.

According to Mr Stamatoyannopoulos’ scenario of the origin of the Minoans is as follows:

“Before about 9000 years, there had been large-scale migration of people from Neolithic sites in Anatolia that match today in parts of Turkey and the Middle East. Then they arrived in Crete and the first inhabitants of the island. The analysis we conducted with mitochondrial DNA and comparison with other populations suggests that the Minoans have the strongest genetic association with populations of Neolithic Age as well as ancient and contemporary European and especially the population of Crete. According to our results, the Minoan population developed 5,000 years ago in Crete from ancestors that lived on the island and had already arrived there 4,000 years earlier. “

The Greek professor also noted that :

“Genetic testing plays an increasingly important role in predicting and protecting human health. Our study highlights the fact that DNA analysis can help us not only have a healthier future but to understand our history. Similar surveys will help us to discover the genetic relations between Minoan and Mycenaean among the Greek tribes of Classical Greece. “

Fruitful Cooperation

The work is the fruit of a crowded group of scientists from different disciplines. Responsible for the statistical analysis of data, which was based on highly advanced algorithms are Mrs. Pigeon Easter, Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Democritus University of Thrace, and Peter Drina, a professor in the Department of Computer Science Rensselaer in the U.S.

Manolis Michalodimitrakis, Professor of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, University of Crete coordinated the identification and collection of ancient bones used to extract the DNA. Archaeologist Dr.Vassilakis and anthropologist Dr. McGeorge gave the bones which were the subject of research. Great was the contribution of the late archaeologist Nikos Papadakis, who as director of the Archaeological Service of St. Nicholas was a strong supporter of the study, which began more than ten years ago. [Source: Tribune].



DNA reveals origin of Greece’s ancient Minoan culture


( Minoan Bull Leaping, from “The Greeks” by Roy Burrell, Illustration by Peter Connolly, Oxford University Press, 1989.).

Europe’s first advanced civilisation was local in origin and not imported from elsewhere, a study says.
Analysis of DNA from ancient remains on the Greek island of Crete suggests the Minoans were indigenous Europeans, shedding new light on a debate over the provenance of this ancient culture.Scholars have variously argued the Bronze Age civilisation arrived from Africa, Anatolia or the Middle East. Details appear in Nature Communications journal.

The concept of the Minoan civilisation was first developed by Sir Arthur Evans, the British archaeologist who unearthed the Bronze Age palace of Knossos on Crete.

Evans named the people who built these cities after the legendary King Minos who, according to tradition, ordered the construction of a labyrinth on Crete to hold the mythical half-man, half-bull creature known as the minotaur.

Evans was of the opinion that the real-life Bronze Age culture on Crete must have its origins elsewhere. And so, he suggested that the Minoans were refugees from Egypt’s Nile delta, fleeing the region’s conquest by a southern king some 5,000 years ago.
Surprisingly advanced

“He was surprised to find this advanced civilisation on Crete,” said co-author George Stamatoyannopoulos, from the University of Washington in Seattle, US.

The evidence for this idea included apparent similarities between Egyptian and Minoan art and resemblances between circular tombs built by the early inhabitants of southern Crete and those built by ancient Libyans. But other archaeologists have argued for origins in Palestine, Syria, or Anatolia.

In this study, Prof Stamatoyannopoulos and colleagues analysed the DNA of 37 individuals buried in a cave on the Lassithi plateau in the island’s east. The majority of the burials are thought to date to the middle of the Minoan period — around 3,700 years ago.

The analysis focused on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) extracted from the teeth of the skeletons, This type of DNA is stored in the cell’s “batteries” and is passed down, more or less unchanged, from mother to child.

They then compared the frequencies of distinct mtDNA lineages, known as “haplogroups”, in this ancient Minoan set with similar data for 135 other populations, including ancient samples from Europe and Anatolia as well as modern peoples.

The comparison seemed to rule out an origin for the Minoans in North Africa: the ancient Cretans showed little genetic similarity to Libyans, Egyptians or the Sudanese. They were also genetically distant from populations in the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudis, and Yemenis.
Locally Sourced

The ancient Minoan DNA was most similar to populations from western and northern Europe. The population showed particular genetic affinities with Bronze Age populations from Sardinia and Iberia and Neolithic samples from Scandinavia and France.

They also resembled people who live on the Lassithi Plateau today, a population that has previously attracted attention from geneticists.

The authors therefore conclude that the Minoan civilisation was a local development, originated by inhabitants who probably reached the island around 9,000 years ago, in Neolithic times.

“There has been all this controversy over the years. We have shown how the analysis of DNA can help archaeologists and historians put things straight,” Prof Stamatoyannopoulos told BBC News.

“The Minoans are Europeans and are also related to present-day Cretans — on the maternal side.”

He added: “It’s obvious that there was very important local development. But it is clear that, for example, in the art, there were influences from other peoples. So we need to see the Mediterranean as a pool, not as a group of isolated nations.” “There is evidence of cultural influence from Egypt to the Minoans and going the other way.”



Minoan civilization was made in Europe.

DNA casts doubt on Egyptian origin for ancient Cretans.


( Minoan Cup Bearer from the “Procession Frescoe” of the Palace of King Minos, Knossos, Crete.).

Minoan artefacts are different from those of nearby Bronze-Age Greece — but DNA studies suggest civilization might have been home grown after all.

When the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans discovered the 4,000-year-old Palace of Minos on Crete in 1900, he saw the vestiges of a long-lost civilization whose artefacts set it apart from later Bronze-Age Greeks. The Minoans, as Evans named them, were refugees from Northern Egypt who had been expelled by invaders from the South about 5,000 years ago, he claimed.

Modern archaeologists have questioned that version of events, and now ancient DNA recovered from Cretan caves suggests that the Minoan civilization emerged from the early farmers who settled the island thousands of years earlier.

The Minoans flourished on Crete for as many as 12 centuries until about 1,500 bc, when it is thought to have been devastated by a catastrophic eruption of the Mediterranean island volcano Santorini, and a subsequent tsunami. They are widely recognized as one of Europe’s first ‘high cultures’, renowned for their pottery, metal-work and colourful frescoes. Their civilization fuelled Greek myths such as the story of the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull creature who lived in a labyrinth.

Evans was among the first to explore Crete after it gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1898. His team discovered the 4,000-year-old Palace of Minos, and uncovered artefacts very different from those of Bronze Age Greece, including thick-walled circular tombs that bore a resemblance to those of ancient North Africans, and still-undeciphered scripts dubbed Linear A and Cretan hieroglyphs.

Others have suggested that the Minoans originated in the Middle East, modern-day Turkey or the Mediterranean. Genetic studies of modern Cretans have come to little consensus.

George Stamatoyannopoulos, a geneticist at the University of Washington in Seattle who has been working on the problem for more than a decade, hoped that he could settle the debate by looking at the DNA of the long-dead Minoans. “One of my motivations when I started the whole thing was to see whether Sir Arthur Evans was right or not,” he says.

Stamatoyannopoulos’s team assembled bone and tooth samples from more than 100 individuals who lived on Crete between 4,900 and 3,800 years ago. Of these, 37 yielded mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down in the maternal line. The team analysed the samples in two different laboratories — a quality-control method common in ancient DNA work.

Cultural exchange

The Minoan samples possessed 21 different mitochondrial DNA markers, including 6 unique to Minoans and 15 common in modern, Bronze Age and Neolithic European populations. None of the Minoans possessed mitochondrial markers similar to those of present-day African populations. The results are published online today in Nature Communications1.

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.

( Link:


Mysterious Minoans Were European, DNA Finds.


(The North entrance of the Palace of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete.)

The Minoans, the builders of Europe’s first advanced civilization, really were European, new research suggests.

The conclusion, published today (May 14) in the journal Nature Communications, was drawn by comparing DNA from 4,000-year-old Minoan skeletons with genetic material from people living throughout Europe and Africa in the past and today.

“We now know that the founders of the first advanced European civilization were European,” said study co-author George Stamatoyannopoulos, a human geneticist at the University of Washington. “They were very similar to Neolithic Europeans and very similar to present day-Cretans,” residents of the Mediterranean island of Crete.

While that may sound intuitive, the findings challenge a long-held theory that the Ancient Minoans came from Egypt.

First European Civilization

The Minoan culture emerged on Crete, which is now part of Greece, and flourished from about 2,700 B.C. to 1,420 B.C. Some believe that a massive eruption from the Volcano Thera on the island of Santorini doomed the Bronze Age civilization, while others argue that invading Mycenaeans toppled the once-great power.

Nowadays, the Minoans may be most famous for the myth of the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull that was fabled to have lived within a labyrinth in Crete.

When British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans discovered the Minoan Palace of Knossos more than 100 years ago, he was dumbstruck by its beauty. He also noticed an eerie similarity between Minoan and Egyptian art, and didn’t believe that the culture was home grown.

“That’s why Evans postulated the civilization was imported from Egypt or Libya,” Stamatoyannopoulos told LiveScience.

Genetic clues

To test that idea, the research team analyzed DNA from ancient Minoan skeletons that were sealed in a cave in Crete’s Lassithi Plateau between 3,700 and 4,400 years ago. They then compared the skeletal mitochondrial DNA, which is stored in the energy powerhouses of cells and passed on through the maternal line, with that found in a sample of 135 modern and ancient populations from around Europe and Africa.

The researchers found that the Minoan skeletons were genetically very similar to modern-day Europeans — and especially close to modern-day Cretans, particularly those from the Lassithi Plateau. They were also genetically similar to Neolithic Europeans, but distinct from Egyptian or Libyan populations.

The findings argue against Evan’s hypothesis and suggest that locals, not African expats, developed the Minoan culture.

“It was a period of excitement around the Mediterranean,” so although the Minoans definitely had contact with their African neighbours across the Mediterranean, any similarities in art were probably the result of cultural exchange, Stamatoyannopoulos said.

Ancient language?

The findings suggest that the ancient Minoans were likely descended from a branch of agriculturalists in Anatolia (what is now modern-day Turkey and Iraq) that fanned out into Europe about 9,000 years ago. If so, the Minoans may have spoken a proto-Indo-European Language derived from the one possibly spoken by those Anatolian farmers, the researchers speculate.

Knowing that the Minoan language has Indo-European roots could help archaeologists decipher a mysterious Minoan writing system, known as Linear A, Stamatoyannopoulos said.

The prevailing theories hold that Minoan was a separate language family.

The analysis of DNA from the Lassithi cave is a “valuable contribution,” said Colin Renfrew, an archaeologist from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the study.

However, to make a clearer connection to the Anatolian migration, the researchers should have compared the Minoan DNA with more DNA samples from modern and ancient Anatolia, he said.

(Link: ).


017 The Dolphin Frescoe Knossos
017 The Dolphin Frescoe Knossos

( The “Dolphin Frescoe” from the Palce of King Minos, Knossos, Crete. (Wikipedia) ).


European Journal of Human Genetics (2007) 15, 485–493. doi:10.1038/sj.ejhg.5201769; published online 31 January 2007

Paleolithic Y-haplogroup heritage predominates in a Cretan highland plateau

Laisel Martinez1, Peter A Underhill2, Lev A Zhivotovsky3, Tenzin Gayden1, Nicholas K Moschonas4, Cheryl-Emiliane T Chow2, Simon Conti2, Elisabetta Mamolini5, L Luca Cavalli-Sforza2 and Rene J Herrera1

  1. 1Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA
  2. 2Department of Genetics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA
  3. 3N.I. Vavilov Institute of General Genetics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia
  4. 4Department of Biology, University of Crete, Crete, Greece
  5. 5Department of Biology, University of Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy

Correspondence: Dr RJ Herrera, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, University Park, Room OE304, Miami, FL 33199, USA, Tel: +1 305 348 1258; Fax: +1 305 348 1259; E-mail:

Received 13 July 2006; Revised 24 October 2006; Accepted 21 November 2006; Published online 31 January 2007.


The island of Crete, credited by some historical scholars as a central crucible of western civilization, has been under continuous archeological investigation since the second half of the nineteenth century. In the present work, the geographic stratification of the contemporary Cretan Y-chromosome gene pool was assessed by high-resolution haplotyping to investigate the potential imprints of past colonization episodes and the population substructure. In addition to analyzing the possible geographic origins of Y-chromosome lineages in relatively accessible areas of the island, this study includes samples from the isolated interior of the Lasithi Plateau — a mountain plain located in eastern Crete. The potential significance of the results from the latter region is underscored by the possibility that this region was used as a Minoan refugium. Comparisons of Y-haplogroup frequencies among three Cretan populations as well as with published data from additional Mediterranean locations revealed significant differences in the frequency distributions of Y-chromosome haplogroups within the island. The most outstanding differences were observed in haplogroups J2 and R1, with the predominance of haplogroup R lineages in the Lasithi Plateau and of haplogroup J lineages in the more accessible regions of the island. Y-STR-based analyses demonstrated the close affinity that R1a1 chromosomes from the Lasithi Plateau shared with those from the Balkans, but not with those from lowland eastern Crete. In contrast, Cretan R1b microsatellite-defined haplotypes displayed more resemblance to those from Northeast Italy than to those from Turkey and the Balkans.


Y-chromosome, haplotype, haplogroup, Crete, Lasithi Plateau


Referred to by some as the birthplace of western civilization, the island of Crete is one of the most extensively excavated locations in the world. Crete, which is situated approximately equidistant from mainland Greece, Turkey and Libya, and linked to the first two by archipelagos of stepping-stone islands, has been influenced by periodic waves of dispersing migrants.

The first permanent inhabitants of the island are believed to have arrived around 7000 BC, possibly from Anatolia.1 This founding group was mainly composed of early Neolithic farmers who established their first settlements in the fertile lowland regions of Crete. Approximately 4000 years later, this population in part formed the basis of what has since been termed the Minoan culture, a pre-Hellenic Bronze-Age civilization that prospered from mercantilism and trade with other Mediterranean civilizations.

It is often argued that during the later Bronze Age, Crete received an influx of Mycenaean Greeks who controlled the island from ca. 1450 BC until the twelveth century BC.2 The end of the Bronze Age witnessed a considerable amount of cultural disruption in Crete, for reasons that remain disputed. One result of this upheaval, whether it was caused by internal warfare or by invasion from the north, was a population movement to upland refuges.3

After the Bronze Age, Crete came under the influence and control of various external cultures, at times involving the incursion of foreign populace. In 69 BC, Crete was annexed by the Romans and was passed on to the Byzantines almost five centuries later. The Arabs invaded the island in the year 824 AD. It was reconquered by the Byzantines in 961 AD. In spite of multiple local revolts, the latter period was followed by more than four centuries of Venetian rule that started in the early 1200s. Then, after a two-decade siege by the Ottoman Empire of what is today the city of Heraklion, the Turks controlled the island from 1669 AD until the early twentieth century, when it was unified with mainland Greece.

Although these changes in cultural orientation and human populations may have been concentrated initially in the coastal and lowland regions of Crete, the upland areas were not exempt from such external influences. For example, in eastern Crete, the population of the Lasithi Plateau in the Diktaian mountain range is also known to have been influenced to some extent by the same complex course of history. The first settlements of the Lasithi highland mesa have been dated to the later Neolithic, approximately 3500 BC, possibly as a result of population expansions from coastal homesteads.4 The archeological evidence suggests that, although they enjoyed a relative physical isolation, the inhabitants of the Lasithi Plain were, throughout its history, in communication with the inhabitants of the coastal regions.

The size of the Minoan population in the Lasithi Plateau appears to have reached a peak around 1600 BC and dropped sharply a couple of centuries later. The material culture of the latest Bronze Age displayed the hybrid Minoan/Mycenaean styles that were typical of this period in Crete.4 After another reduction in population density around the third century BC, the area became populous again in the 4th century AD, presumably as a result of a Roman settlement.4 During the period of Venetian rule, the Lasithi Plateau served as a refuge for Cretan insurgents.5 The Venetian government reacted by banning settlement and cultivation of the area from the mid 13th century to 1463 AD.4, 5 Subsequently, in an attempt to increase grain production and alleviate the effects of the Ottoman blockade, the Venetian government decided to recolonize the plain in 1548 with settlers from the Greek mainland (eastern Peloponnese4, 5). Although some have suggested that with every foreign intrusion into the Lasithi Plateau the local residents deserted the area,4 it remains entirely unclear as to what fraction, if any, of the local population departed in each period and the geographical origin(s) of those who remained.

A recent analysis of nine Y-chromosome markers defining haplogroups A, DE, G2, I, J, P*, and R1a revealed a high degree of heterogeneity within the island of Crete.6 Their study uncovered that, although more than 96% of males in the Cretan prefectures of Chania, Rethymno and Heraklion can be assigned to the tested haplogroups, only 82% of the Y chromosomes in Lasithi were derived at those markers.6 An analysis of J2 chromosomes from Crete, similarly revealed additional examples of diversity within the island.7

In the present study, we explore Y chromosomal diversity in the eastern half of Crete by typing a total of 77 markers in two general populations from the prefectures of Heraklion and Lasithi, and in a relatively isolated group from the Lasithi Plateau. The historical importance of the latter region is underscored by the role played by mountain plains, such as the one mentioned above, as natural refuges for late Minoans.3 The relative geographic isolation that has characterized the Lasithi Plateau even until the late twentieth century (the first and only paved road connecting the high plain with the outside world was built in the 1970s) provides a unique opportunity to study the genetic contributions of past migrants and invaders to the composition of the male population in this area, as compared with the more accessible locations of the island. Our results uncover significant frequency differences of the J2 and R1 haplogroups between the inhabitants of the isolated Lasithi Plateau and those of the surrounding Heraklion and Lasithi Prefectures. We demonstrate a nonuniform distribution of Y-chromosome signatures, which reflects the complex colonization of the eastern half of Crete by different mainland sources during the last 9000 years.

Materials and methods


A total of 168 unrelated male samples were collected from three locations in the island of Crete (Figure 1). Two sample groups of 104 and 23 individuals were from the general populations of the Heraklion and Lasithi Prefectures, respectively. A third group of 41 individuals was from the population of the Lasithi Plateau, a plain located within the Diktaian mountain range, at a median elevation of approximately 850 meters and encircled by 2000-m-high mountains on all sides.

Figure 1.

005 FIG1.
005 FIG1.

Individuals were identified, at the time of collection, by biographical information dating back to at least two generations. Samples were collected according to the guidelines of the Institutional Review Board at Florida International University. Genomic DNA was isolated from peripheral blood lymphocytes by standard phenol/chloroform extraction followed by ethanol precipitation.8

Y-chromosome haplotyping

Seventy-seven binary markers were hierarchically genotyped by standard methods, including PCR-RFLP and size detection by PCR of the Y-specific polymorphic Alu insertion (PAI) YAP. For those polymorphisms not amenable to detection by RFLP, genotyping was performed by selective PCR.9, 10Supplementary Table 1 presents the summary of Y-SNPs genotyped for all the Cretan samples. Haplogroup diversity was calculated as h=(1-SIGMA xi2)n/(n-1).11Information regarding the Y-chromosomal locations of the binary markers, the original references reporting their discoveries, the allelic states and the primer sequences can be found at the YCC website under Supplementary Data:

Correspondence analysis

Y-chromosome data from 23 additional populations were obtained from the literature and were employed to perform a correspondence analysis (CA). Supplementary Table 2 presents the list of all the populations included in the study and their haplogroup frequencies. The CA was performed using the NTSYSpc-2.02i software12 and was based on the observed frequencies of haplogroups A, B, C, E3, ExE3, F*, G, H, I, J2, JxJ2, K-M70, KxM70, L, N, PxR, R*, and R1+R2 (Supplementary Table 2).

Y-STR genotyping and age estimations of Y-STR variation

For the Y-chromosome haplogroups R1a1-M198 and R1b-P25, Y-STR diversity at 10 markers (DYS19, DYS388, DYS389I, DYS389II, DYS390, DYS391, DYS392, DYS393, DYS439, and DYSA7.2) was assessed. The Y-STR data from the populations of the Heraklion and Lasithi Prefectures were combined and compared with the data from the Lasithi Plateau group. In addition, a total of 40 P25-derived samples from Ferrara, Italy, were also genotyped for the same 10 Y-STR markers.

Genotyping of Y-STR markers was performed as reported elsewhere13 and the age estimations of Y-STR variation were calculated as previously described.14, 15 For both the R1a1-M198 and the R1b-P25 haplogroups, the Cretan Y-STR data were analyzed with respect to published Y-STR information from the Balkans16 and Turkey.13 Supplementary Table 3 presents the R1a1 and R1b-associated Y-STR data from all the populations that were analyzed. As Y-STR data on only seven markers were available for the Balkans (DYS19, DYS389I, DYS389II, DYS390, DYS391, DYS392, and DYS393), the age estimations of Y-STR variation were obtained separately by using both the 7- and 10-loci data sets (Table 1). BATWING expansion times were also generated for comparisons (Table 1), using an average STR mutation rate of 0.0007, an intergeneration time of 25 years and an exponential population growth from a constant-size ancestral population.17 As mentioned above, the R1b-P25 analysis included data presented for the first time in this work from the population of Ferrara in northern Italy. Population-specific and overall network analyses were performed with 7 loci by using the reduced-median algorithm of NETWORK (Supplementary Figures 1 and 2).18 The Y-STR loci DYS19, DYS389I, DYS389II, DYS390, DYS391, DYS392, and DYS393 were assigned weights of 5, 5, 2, 1, 2, 10, and 10, respectively. For each of these haplogroups, Y-STR-based principal component analyses (PCAs) were also generated using the 7-loci data sets (Figure 5). E3b1-M78 samples were genotyped for Y-STR markers A7.1, DYS19, and DYS439 in order to classify them into E3b1-M78, Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta lineages, respectively.19

Figure 5.

006 FIG5.
006 FIG5.

Y-STR-based principal component analyses of haplogroups R1a1 and R1b using microsatellite markers DYS19, DYS389I, DYS389II, DYS390, DYS391, DYS392, and DYS393.

Table 1 — Ages of Y-STR variation and expansion times for lineages R1a1 and R1b.

007 TABLE1.
007 TABLE1.



From a total of 77 binary markers typed in the three Cretan populations, 35 were found to be polymorphic in the overall group of 168 individuals. These define 21 paternal haplogroups in the Heraklion Prefecture collection and 12 haplogroups in both the Lasithi Prefecture and the Lasithi Plateau groups (Figure 2). Only seven of these 12 haplogroups are observed in common in the latter two populations from the Lasithi region. With the exception of two Q-M242 individuals from the Lasithi Plateau, the rest of the haplogroups detected in the Lasithi Prefecture and Lasithi Plateau collections were also observed in the province of Heraklion.

Figure 2.

008 FIG2.
008 FIG2.

Most parsimonious phylogeny of Y-chromosome haplogroups. The number of samples derived at each haplogroup, frequencies and haplotype diversity (h) are indicated for each population. All M78-derived individuals belonged to the E3b1-M78 Alpha classification, except for two samples in the Heraklion Prefecture population and one from the Lasithi Plateau, who were M78 Delta. Mutations in italics were not genotyped and are only included for phylogenetic context. Markers M3, M18, M20, M21, M25, M26, M37, M56, M65, M68, M72, M81, M120, M123, M136, M137, M148, M153, M157, M158, M161, M163, M167, M204, M222, M224, M227, M231, M280, M281, M285, M286, M289, M290, M318, M320, M321, M322, M323, M339, M340, M365, M368, M369, and V6 were found to have the ancestral state in all individuals genotyped.

In terms of haplogroup frequencies, the most striking differences among the three populations studied are observed in the J2 and R1 haplogroups. Although 46.2 and 47.8% of the individuals in the Heraklion Prefecture and Lasithi Prefecture populations, respectively, are derived at M172, a frequency of only 9.8% is found in the Lasithi Plateau group. Furthermore, not only does the highland plain record a much lower percentage of J2 individuals, but it is also characterized by a lower level of diversity. While a total of seven and five J2 haplogroup types are detected in the Heraklion Prefecture and Lasithi Prefecture populations, respectively, only two are observed in the Lasithi Plateau group. In the case of the R1 haplogroup, while frequencies of 19.2% and 21.7% are found in the Heraklion Prefecture and Lasithi Prefecture populations, respectively, more than half (56.1%) of the Lasithi Plateau individuals are R1-M306-derived.

When such haplogroup distributions are compared with those previously observed in other Mediterranean locations,20, 21, 22, 23, 24 it becomes evident that the low J2 frequency in the Lasithi Plateau population is exceptional in the northeastern region of the Mediterranean (Figure 3). In this area, only two collections, from Macedonia and Syria, have J2 frequencies that come close to the one observed in the Lasithi Plateau (Figure 3). Equally discordant is the high frequency of the R1 haplogroup in the Lasithi Plateau group when compared to other groups in the northeastern Mediterranean. Overall, the proportion of R1 individuals found in the Lasithi Plain is actually more equivalent to the frequencies detected in northwestern Mediterranean locations, such as central-northern Italy, Corsica, mainland France and Spain (Figure 3).

009 FIG3.
009 FIG3.

Distribution of Y-chromosome haplogroups in 26 Mediterranean populations. Original references, number of samples and name codes for all populations are listed in Supplementary Table 2.

In contrast with the results of the above comparisons, both the Heraklion Prefecture and Lasithi Prefecture populations present J2 and R1 frequencies comparable with those previously observed in northeastern Mediterranean locations and even in Libya (Figure 3). Nevertheless, the frequency of J2 in these two Cretan groups is much higher than in mainland Greece, Macedonia and Albania.

Population relationships

In addition to the three Cretan populations examined in this work, Y-chromosome data from 23 Mediterranean groups were obtained from the literature (Supplementary Table 2) and were used to perform a CA (Figure 4). These same populations are included in Figure 3 for a visual representation of Y-haplogroup distributions in the Mediterranean region.

Figure 4.

010 FIG4.
010 FIG4.

Correspondence analysis of 26 Mediterranean populations based on the observed frequencies of haplogroups A, B, C, E3, ExE3, F*, G, H, I, J2, JxJ2, K-M70, KxM70, L, N, PxR, R*, and R1+R2. Original references, number of samples and name codes for all populations are listed in Supplementary Table 2.

The CA illustrates very close genetic relationships between three pairs of populations (Figure 4). These are the Heraklion Prefecture and Lasithi Prefecture groups, the populations from the islands of Corsica and Sardinia, and the groups from Albania and mainland Greece. All of the above populations, in turn, appear closely related to those of Sicily, Calabria and Turkey. Furthermore, although representing a slightly higher degree of separation, the collections from Syria and Lebanon segregate close to the latter group of populations.

In contrast with the positions of the other two Cretan collections, the Lasithi Plateau population exhibits a close genetic relationship with respect to groups from central and southwestern Europe, including Andalusia, Basque Country, Cataluña, Croatia, France and central-northern Italy (Figure 4).

Y-STR genotyping and age estimations

Microsatellite haplotypes based on 10 Y-STR markers were assessed for individuals belonging to the haplogroups R1a1-M198 and R1b-P25 (Supplementary Table 3). The ages of Y-STR variation for the Heraklion Prefecture and Lasithi Prefecture collections were estimated by combining Y-STR data from both groups. The results are compared to the ages determined for the Lasithi Plateau population, the Balkans,16 Turkey13 and North Italy (i.e., Ferrara) (Table 1).

Table 1 indicates the age of Y-STR variation associated with each haplogroup for every one of the populations examined. BATWING expansion times are also included for comparison. As Y-STR information for only seven markers was available in the case of the Balkans, microsatellite-based dating was performed separately using both the 7-loci and 10-loci data sets. The results indicate that for the R1a1 haplogroup, the age of Y-STR variation in the Lasithi Plateau is at least 10.4 +/- 4.9 kya, the same range as in the case of Turkey (10.0 +/- 2.6, Table 1). Nevertheless, the ages of Y-STR variation in both of these populations are more recent than the dates estimated for the Balkans (14.6 +/- 3.0 kya) and the rest of Crete (at least 15.1 +/- 3.5 kya). In the case of the R1b haplogroup, the age of Y-STR diversity in the Lasithi Plateau population is at least 8.4 +/- 2.4 kya, compared to at least 11.7 +/- 1.8 kya in the surrounding two provinces. The former date is comparable with the age estimated for the Balkans (Table 1). Unfortunately, for many of the populations analyzed and for all groups from Crete, the BATWING expansion analyses did not generate credible 95% confidence intervals (Table 1). In spite of that, with the exception of the R1b results for the Lasithi Plateau and Turkey, the times of expansion corroborate the above-mentioned ages.

The population-specific network analyses generated star-like topologies in most of the groups analyzed (Supplementary Figure 1). In addition, the overall networks for haplogroups R1a1 and R1b demonstrate that all the collections have representative haplotypes in, presumably, the most ancestral node of their topologies (Supplementary Figure 2). This explains the relatively old dates and the similar ages of Y-STR variation estimated for all groups studied.

In order to explore the genetic similarities of the R1a1 and R1b Cretan haplogroups with those from Turkey, the Balkans and North Italy, Y-STR-based PCAs based on seven microsatellite markers, were generated. These PCAs are presented in Figure 5. The plot in panel A indicates a close genetic relationship between the Lasithi Plateau and the Balkans R1a1 lineages, whereas the Crete without the Lasithi Plateau group exhibits little or no affinity with respect to R1a1 lineages from the former populations and from Turkey (Figure 5a). In the case of the R1b haplogroup (Figure 5b), the PCA indicates that R1b lineages from both Cretan groups are more related to the lineages from North Italy than to those from Turkey or the Balkans. This affinity, however, is much more evident in the case of the Crete-without the Lasithi Plateau population.


Neolithic and postneolithic signals from eastern Crete

The clinal frequency pattern of haplogroup E in the Mediterranean region has been associated with several dispersal events during and after the Neolithic period.19,25, 26 Originally emanating from East Africa, haplogroup E3b-M35 and particularly subhaplogroup E3b1-M78 are believed to be signatures of a demic diffusion of Neolithic farmers from the Middle East to Europe. This haplogroup has left its strongest imprint along the Southern Mediterranean.20, 26, 27

In the three Cretan populations studied in this work, the frequency of E3b-M35-derived chromosomes range from 4.9% in the Lasithi Plateau to 13% in the Lasithi Prefecture population. As expected, the most common subhaplogroup observed is E3b1-M78, which is the only one found in the Lasithi Plateau collection (Figure 2). Further genotyping of the M78-derived samples for the Y-STR markers A7.1, DYS19 and DYS439, allowed their classification into two of the four previously delineated E3b1-M78 lineages (ie Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta ).19 One chromosome from the Lasithi Plateau population and two chromosomes from the Heraklion Prefecture belong to the lineage M78Delta, whereas the remaining eight Cretan samples belong to the lineage M78Alpha. The highest frequency of the M78Alpha lineage was previously observed in the Balkans. This decreased in the western and northeastern directions in European populations.19 Cluster M78Delta, on the other hand, was detected at low frequencies in Europe, the Near East, eastern and northern Africa,19 and it has been found to be associated with at least three M78 downstream mutations.28 Given the paraphyletic character of this cluster, it is not possible to relate, at this juncture, the Cretan M78Delta chromosomes with those found in neighboring locations. Considering the relatively high frequency of E3b1-M78 chromosomes in Albania, Macedonia and Greece,16, 19, 26 and particularly the M78Alpha lineage in the first two of these collections (data not available for Greece), it is possible that the presence of this lineage in Crete represents gene flow from mainland Greece during and/or after the Neolithic.

In the case of Cretan E3b3-M123 (M34) chromosomes, they most likely signal East African or Middle-Eastern gene flow rather than European, due to the scarcity of this lineage in the latter area.19, 26 Similarly, the presence of E3b-M35* individuals in the Heraklion Prefecture population could probably be attributed to an East-African or North-African contribution.

Like haplogroup E, the entire J clade is also of Middle Eastern origin. It was most likely introduced into the Mediterranean region during the diaspora of Neolithic farmers.20, 25, 26 It has been suggested that this dispersal may have occurred overseas,25, 26 which implies a significant role of the Mediterranean islands in the Neolithization of southern continental Europe.

An analysis of J2-frequency clines in both continental Italy and in Greece, as well as in the islands of Crete, Mitilini and Khios, revealed high frequency values of J2-chromosomes in all the four Cretan prefectures (26–45%) with the lowest corresponding to Lasithi.6 Our study corroborates the predominant frequency of the J2 haplogroup in the Heraklion and Lasithi Prefecture populations (46.2 and 47.8%, respectively), which are most comparable with the values reported for Turkey20 and Libya24 (Figure 3). In the case of the latter, however, the majority of J2 chromosomes correspond to the J2b2-M241 subhaplogroup. This correspondence suggests little genetic affinity with the Cretan collections.

Out of the total number of J2 chromosomes in the Heraklion Prefecture and Lasithi Prefecture populations, 92 and 82% of the samples, respectively, are derived at J2-DYS413 (Figure 2). As the CA illustrates (Figure 4), these proportions suggest genetic affinity with groups from the Turkish-Greek area, where this marker is believed to have originated.7 Based on the generally low frequency of J2-DYS413 chromosomes in present mainland Greece,6 the Turkish region is favored as the origin of these lineages. Furthermore, the high frequencies of DYS413-derived chromosomes in the island of Crete, as well as in a number of coastal locations from both mainland Greece and Italy, together with the moderate frequencies of this mutation in the Aegean islands,6 can be interpreted as the signals of a maritime demic diffusion from Anatolia.

A previous study of DYS413-derived chromosomes from the Mediterranean region also detected significant similarities between Cretan and southern Anatolian populations. These findings corroborated the proposed geographical origin of the earliest Cretan agriculturists.29 Nevertheless, considering the number of colonizations experienced by the island in more recent periods (including the Ottoman penetration), the presence of DYS413 chromosomes in Crete may not be necessarily solely related to the arrival of its first farmers.

Of the 57 J2-DYS413 chromosomes in Crete, a total of nine chromosomes are derived at J2a1h-M319 (Figure 2). This mutation was recently discovered in one Iraqi and two Moroccan chromosomes24 and to our knowledge, it has not been reported in any other population. Interestingly, seven out of the nine Cretan M319-derived chromosomes have the (CA)16-(CA)18 genotype at the DYS413 microsatellite marker, a pattern that was not observed in any other DYS413-derived lineage. A prominent frequency of DYS413 (CA)16-(CA)18 chromosomes in Crete, and particularly in the prefecture of Chania, was detected in the past and was attributed to a founder effect in the island.7 It appears from our results that this founder effect is associated with the introduction or origin in Crete of the J2a1h-M319 mutation.

Archeological findings indicate that the first inhabitants of Crete arrived during the Neolithic.1 It is therefore intriguing that the Lasithi Plateau population only presents 12.2% of J chromosomes, compared with values of more than 47% in both the Heraklion Prefecture and Lasithi Prefecture collections. Similarly, only 4.9% of chromosomes in the Lasithi Plateau group correspond to the E haplogroup, compared to more than 10% in the former two populations. The low frequencies of these Neolithic haplogroups in the Lasithi Plateau population contrast with the unusually elevated proportion of Paleolithic R1 chromosomes for an eastern Mediterranean location.

Haplogroup R1 chromosomes in eastern Crete

Previous studies of Y-chromosome polymorphisms in Eurasian populations have suggested a Paleolithic origin for the Y-haplogroup R1.20, 30 The origin of the haplogroup R1-M173 is believed to predate the Last Glacial Maximum. This haplogroup dispersed from east to west, possibly 30 kya, along with the spread of the Aurignacian culture.20, 30 Different demographic processes have been proposed to account for the current distributions of subclades R1a and R1b in European populations.16, 20, 30, 31

The R1 haplogroup frequencies obtained for the three Cretan groups in the present work reveal remarkable differences among them, as well as with respect to neighboring Mediterranean collections. Although frequencies of 19.2 and 21.7% were found in the Heraklion Prefecture and Lasithi Prefecture populations, respectively, a proportion of more than half (56.1%) was observed in the Lasithi Plateau. The prominent frequency of the R1 haplogroup in the Lasithi Plateau collection does not resemble the values published for any other group in the northeastern Mediterranean. Although this high proportion of R1 chromosomes in the Lasithi high plain could be the result of genetic drift owing to founder effect and/or to geographic isolation, the above observation prompted us to explore the possible origins and ages of the R1 haplogroups in the island.

Similar ages of R1a1-associated Y-STR variation were obtained for all the populations analyzed (Table 1). These results are indicative of considerable microsatellite variability associated with this haplogroup in the island. The Y-STR-based PCA of Figure 5a indicates a very close genetic relationship between the R1a1 chromosomes from the Lasithi Plateau and those from the Balkans. In contrast, the rest of the R1a1 chromosomes from Crete (denoted as ‘Crete without Lasithi Plateau’ in Figure 5a) do not appear closely related to those from the Lasithi Plateau, Turkey or the Balkans. These results suggest that the R1a1 chromosomes in the highland mesa may represent a unique infiltration into Crete, distinct from the incursion of R1a1 types into the coastal regions.

In the case of the R1b haplogroup, the age of Y-STR variation estimated for the Crete without Lasithi Plateau population is similar to the dates obtained for Turkey and North Italy (Table 1). The Y-STR-based PCA of this haplogroup (Figure 5b) indicates a close genetic relationship between the Crete without Lasithi Plateau collection and North Italy. The Lasithi Plateau group segregates at a slightly more distant point in the PCA plot, with respect to North Italy. Based on the age of the R1b-associated Y-STR variation for the Crete-without-Lasithi-Plateau population, the genetic affinity between R1b haplogroups from North Italy and Crete might be the imprints of an Italian gene flow before the end of the Minoan civilization and/or more recent migrations during the Roman and Venetian ruling periods. Finally, it is possible that the more recent age for the R1b-associated Y-STR variation in the Lasithi Plateau population as compared with the estimate for the rest of eastern Crete could have resulted from population bottlenecks in the mountain plain. Alternatively, these lineages might have been introduced to the Lasithi highland plain long after their presence in other regions of the island.


The genetic complexity of the male population in Crete is as fascinating as the history of the island. The diversity of Y-chromosome haplogroups ascertained in the three Cretan groups that were analyzed, and particularly in the Heraklion Prefecture population, reflects the genetic legacy of multiple migrations over the last 9000 years. Equally significant is the predominant frequency of Paleolithic haplogroups in the Lasithi Plateau, which includes rare chromosomes such as I*and Q-M242 and is perhaps an indication of the prehistorical complexity of this population. The differences in Y-haplogroup frequencies between the Lasithi Plateau collection and the other two Cretan groups analyzed are either due to genetic drift favored by geographic isolation and/or to the replacement by more recent migrations of a Lasithi Plateau-like genetic composition in the other two Cretan populations. As a whole, our results may be indicative of the utilization of the Lasithi highland retreat as a long-standing repetitive pre-Minoan refugium.


  1. Broodbank C, Strasser T: Migrant farmers and the Neolithic colonisation of Crete. Antiquity 1991; 65: 233–245.
  2. Fitton JL: Minoans. London: The British Museum Press, 2002.
  3. Nowicki K: Defensible sites in Crete c1200–800 BC (LMIIIB/IIIC through Early Geometric). Université de Liège, Liège, University of Texas, Austin: Aegaeum Series 21, 2000.
  4. Watrous LV: Lasithi: a history of settlement on a highland plain in Crete.Hesperia Supplement 1982; 18: i-iii+v+vii-xiv+1–89+91–101+103–122.
  5. Rackham O, Moody J: The making of the Cretan landscape. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996.
  6. Di Giacomo F, Luca F, Anagnou N et al: Clinal patterns of human Y chromosomal diversity in continental Italy and Greece are dominated by drift and founder effects. Mol Phylogenet Evol 2003; 28: 387–395. | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
  7. Malaspina P, Tsopanomichalou M, Duman T et al: A multistep process for the dispersal of a Y chromosomal lineage in the Mediterranean area. Ann Hum Genet 2001; 65: 339–349. | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
  8. Sambrook J, Russell DW: Molecular cloning: a laboratory manual. New York: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2001.
  9. Martinez L, Reategui EP, Fonseca LR et al: Superimposing polymorphism: the case of a point mutation within a polymorphic Alu insertion. Hum Hered2005; 59: 109–117. | Article | PubMed |
  10. Regueiro M, Cadenas AM, Gayden T, Underhill PA, Herrera RJ: Iran: tricontinental nexus for Y-chromosome driven migration. Hum Hered 2006;61: 132–143. | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
  11. Nei M, Tajima F: DNA polymorphism detectable by restriction endonucleases.Genet 1981; 97: 145–163. | ChemPort |
  12. Rohlf F: NTSYSpc. Setauket, New York: Exeter Publishing, 2002.
  13. Cinnioglu C, King R, Kivisild T et al: Excavating Y-chromosome haplotype strata in Anatolia. Hum Genet 2004; 114: 127–148. | Article | PubMed |
  14. Zhivotovsky LA: Estimating divergence time with the use of microsatellite genetic distances: impacts of population growth and gene flow. Mol Biol Evol2001; 18: 700–709. | PubMed | ChemPort |
  15. Zhivotovsky LA, Underhill PA, Cinnioglu C et al: The effective mutation rate at Y chromosome short tandem repeats, with application to human population-divergence time. Am J Hum Genet 2004; 74: 50–61. | Article | PubMed | ISI | ChemPort |
  16. Perièiæ M, Lauc LB, Klaric IM et al: High-resolution phylogenetic analysis of southeastern Europe traces major episodes of paternal gene flow among Slavic populations. Mol Biol Evol 2005; 22: 1964–1975. | Article |
  17. Wilson I, Weale M, Balding D: BATWING: Bayesian analysis of trees with internal node generation. Aberdeen: Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, 2000.
  18. Rohl A: Network 2.0: a program package for calculating phylogenetic networks. Mathematisches Seminar, Hamburg, Germany: University of Hamburg, 1997.
  19. Cruciani F, La Fratta R, Santolamazza P et al: Phylogeographic analysis of haplogroup E3b (E-M215) Y chromosomes reveals multiple migratory events within and out of Africa. Am J Hum Genet 2004; 74: 1014–1022. | Article | PubMed | ISI | ChemPort |
  20. Semino O, Passarino G, Oefner PJ et al: The genetic legacy of Paleolithic Homo sapiens sapiens in extant Europeans: a Y chromosome perspective.Science 2000; 290: 1155–1159. | Article | PubMed | ISI | ChemPort |
  21. Francalacci P, Morelli L, Underhill PA et al: Peopling of three Mediterranean islands (Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily) inferred by Y-chromosome biallelic variability. Am J Phys Anthropol 2003; 121: 270–279. | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
  22. Arredi B, Poloni ES, Paracchini S et al: A predominantly Neolithic origin for Y-chromosomal DNA variation in North Africa. Am J Hum Genet 2004; 75: 338–345. | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
  23. Luis JR, Rowold DJ, Regueiro M et al: The Levant versus the Horn of Africa: evidence for bidirectional corridors of human migrations. Am J Hum Genet2004; 74: 532–544. | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
  24. Shen P, Lavi T, Kivisild T et al: Reconstruction of patrilineages and matrilineages of Samaritans and other Israeli populations from Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA sequence variation. Hum Mutat 2004;24: 248–260. | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
  25. Di Giacomo F, Luca F, Popa LO et al: Y chromosomal haplogroup J as a signature of the post-neolithic colonization of Europe. Hum Genet 2004;115: 357–371. | PubMed | ChemPort |
  26. Semino O, Magri C, Benuzzi G et al: Origin, diffusion, and differentiation of Y-chromosome haplogroups E and J: inferences on the neolithization of Europe and later migratory events in the Mediterranean area. Am J Hum Genet 2004; 74: 1023–1034. | Article | PubMed | ISI | ChemPort |
  27. Hammer MF, Karafet T, Rasanayagam A et al: Out of Africa and back again: nested cladistic analysis of human Y chromosome variation. Mol Biol Evol1998; 15: 427–441. | PubMed | ISI | ChemPort |
  28. Cruciani F, La Fratta R, Torroni A, Underhill PA, Scozzari R: Molecular dissection of the Y chromosome haplogroup E-M78 (E3b1a): A posteriori evaluation of a microsatellite-network-based approach through six new biallelic markers. Hum Mutat 2006; 27: 831–832. | Article | PubMed |
  29. Malaspina P, Cruciani F, Santolamazza P et al: Patterns of male-specific inter-population divergence in Europe, West Asia and North Africa. Ann Hum Genet 2000; 64: 395–412. | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
  30. Wells RS, Yuldasheva N, Ruzibakiev R et al: The Eurasian heartland: a continental perspective on Y-chromosome diversity. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA2001; 98: 10244–10249. | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
  31. Marjanovic D, Fornarino S, Montagna S et al: The peopling of modern Bosnia-Herzegovina: Y-chromosome haplogroups in the three main ethnic groups. Ann Hum Genet 2005; 69: 757–763. | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |


We gratefully acknowledge Dr Manuela M Regueiro for her technical assistance.

Supplementary Information accompanies the paper on European Journal of Human Genetics website (

( LINK : ).



This remarkable BBC presentation on the recent excavations at Pavlopetri in the southern Peloponnese has begun to shed an incredible amount of light on the vigorous commercial activity of the Minoans and further evidence of their cultural and economic practices.

Using state of the art technology to map the submerged site and stunning animated 3D computer re-constructions to bring to life this Minoan settlement and give us a glimpse for the first time as to what this small corner of the world of the Minoans would surely have looked like in its heyday.


The followingmain body of text is from Part Two Chapter I of A.R. Burn’s Minoans, Philistines and Greeks, 1400–900 B.C., 1930, and is reproduced here in its entirety as a continuation of the previous entry “The Sea Raiders Part-1.” for the benefit of the reader.

In the later years of the fifteenth century B.C., while Amenhotep the Magnificent reigned in Egyptian Thebes and rules also the Amorite country as far as the river Euphrates; when Minos ruled in Knossos and his fleets were unrivalled in all the waters if the Great Sea, and before King Subbiluliama had made of his Hittites one of the imperial powers of the world, there dwelt a tribe in Thessaly who were called the Achaioi.

It was a name destined to be famous in later years, though not so famous as that of one of their sub-tribes, the Hellenes.

They were a race of mixed descent-the native stock of the land crossed with an invading people, who had introduced Indo-European speech in the later centuries of the third millennium, and whose still remoter ancestors had brought it into the Balkan Peninsula from the steppe and park-land of its origin.

The Achaioi of Thessaly were those of the Aryan-speaking folk who had remained behind, when others passed on southward, in the twentieth and nineteenth centuries, to colonize Central and to conquer Southern Greece, and in both to introduce their characteristic pottery, which we call “Minyan”, and their language which we call Greek.

South beyond Orhtys and among the marble islands over the sea, momentous events were taking place as the second millennium progressed. Cities and kingdoms were being founded, while a brilliant civilization rose slowly to its height. But of this the Achaioi knew nothing except by hearsay. Within their ring of mountains, they were indeed learning to use tools and weapons of bronze, but in most respects remained a backward folk, probably despised as such by their kinsmen further south.

He sea was still an unknown element to them, and their true landsman’s epithet for it, “Atriyetos, waste, “uncultivable”, probably sums up their feelings about it in these early days.

On the fertile grassland of their home they continued to live very much the life of their pastoral and patriarchal ancestors, north of the Black Sea, nearly two thousand years before. Centuries later, amid the brief and stormy splendours of their “heroic” and imperial time, they looked back as to a Golden Age of peace and innocence to the old uncivilized inland life; and their chiefs still delighted to count “Tamer of Horses”, “Shepherd of the People”, among their titles of praise.

They were probably on the whole a taller and fairer people than the true Mediterraneans of the coasts and islands, and, unlike these latter, great eaters of meat. Their government was aristocratic; they were ruled by patriarchal petty kings, dwelling in big Log-“Halls” with a central hearth, round which straggled untidily the chieftain’s barns and byres and stables, along with the houses of his retainers and he cabins of his thralls.

All or most of these nobles called themselves “Aiolidai”-a race destined to occupy many a throne in the southland I days to come; either claiming descent from a mythical common ancestor Aiolos, “the Glorious”, or else using the word as yet as a simple adjective, “Children of the splendid Ones”.

This, too, was a name with a great future before it, for in historic times it is found to have spread from the nobles to whom Homer applies it to the peoples over whom they ruled. Greek writers use it, very loosely, as an ethnological term, to indicate all those numerous Greek tribes and dialects which are not obviously Doric or Ionic.

By the fifteenth century the Achaioi would seem to have been increasing in numbers so as to be in a fair way to find the land “unable to bear them”. They were pressing hard upon the neighbouring Pelasgoi of Pelasgic Argos and the Spercheios region, and were ready themselves ere long to play a catastrophic part in the further history of the Aegean world.

It was a very civilized and splendid world. For unknown thousands of years the dark Mediterranean folk of the Cyclades and Crete had been slowly building up their civilization. For nearly two thousand, metal had been known, introduced about 3400 B.C., apparently from Asia,( Asia Minor), by one of the rare immigration of foreigners, a movement which betrays itself by the appearance of broad-skulled folk among the natives of the island.

This immigration was an event of the first importance in Cretan history, for it was probably responsible for the fact that throughout the Bronze Age southern Anatolia and the South Aegean had a common religion and spoke dialects of a common non-Aryan Language.

This language was that known to us only through the numerous Greek words which have no Aryan etymology, and which may be presumed to have been picked up by the introducers of Aryan speech from the natives of the land.

Plant-names are naturally a numerous class among these; so, too, are terms denoting civilized inventions or amenities. Among these we notice many which have the sounds “–nth-“ and “–ss-“ in their terminations — two sounds which reappear in a very large number of old Aegean place-names.

Knossos, Larissa (better, Larisa), Parnassos, Ilissos, are a few well-known examples; Corinth, Tiryns (in its oblique cases, Tiryntha, etc.), Mount Kythnos, whence the Goddess Artemis’ title “Cynthia”.

In Asia Minor appear corresponding groups of names in “–ssos-“, “-sa”, and “-nda”: Sagalassos, Halikarnassos, Labraunda, Alabanda. Among common nouns, thalassa, the sea, and asaminthos, a bath, are two noteworthy examples; and actually in modern English we have upwards of a dozen of these old Aegean words, taken over by us in our turn from Greek.

Hyacinth, narcissus, acanthus, cypress; colossus, plinth, labyrinth; mint, absinthe, turpentine (via Latin, from terebinthos); hymn, paean, dithyramb; abyss (which I Greek originally meant the depths of the sea); these and a few more remain to bear witness of our debt, through the Greeks, to the old Aegean civilization.

The religion in question was the worship of the Great Mother and her Son; the primitive and unchanging religion of the Mediterranean world, except in so far as Aryan Greek polytheism or the masculine monotheism of the Jew and the Arab may locally and for a season drive t underground. In Crete as in Anatolia, during the Bronze Age, we find the Great Mother depicted as attended by doves, or by lions-a striking detail, this last, for there seem to have been no lions in Crete.

011 Map of Crete
011 Map of Crete

( Map of the Island of Crete Indicating Main Archaeological sites and Main Towns.).

The double axe itself, the sacred symbol that confronts us everywhere in Minoan art, appears also in Asia, (Asia Minor). One of the very names of the Goddess, in her stronghold in Lydia — “Kybele” — is derived from a word, “Kybelis”, meaning an axe.

By the twentieth century Aegean civilization was already high. The distribution of implements and fragments of the Obsidian of Melos would alone testify to the existence of trade between almost all parts of the Aegean area; and beyond that area their indirect trade-connections already ramified far and wide. The mainland of Greece, and even Crete, was already receiving Amber-that of the Baltic, not the characteristic amber of Sicily; and Middle Minoan objects found in Bohemia, Germany, serve to mark the route.

They also serve to suggest that Bohemia was the quarter whence Aegean Bronze-Founders got their Tin. Troy had long been trading with peoples far up the Danube, as well as with Cyprus via the interior of Asia Minor; and a certain famous lump of White Nephrite, which Schliemann found there among the ruins of the second City — the city which was destroyed round 1850 B.C. — cannot have come from anywhere nearer than the Kuen Lun mountains on the borders of China!

And Troy was in close contact with the Aegean world, though not itself Aegean in culture; two Trojan vases of silver, found in the Cyclades, at Syros and Siphnos, bear witness of this connection. A cylinder-seal, made in Babylon from Armenian Silver and found on the island of Mochlos of the coast of Crete, speaks of contact with the civilized east.

Lastly Egypt, as long ago as the reign of King Khasakhemui of the Second Dynasty, in the thirty-third or thirty-second century, had already been receiving gold from north of the Danube.

Some place-names on the coast of the Black Sea and the Marmora, with the characteristic Aegean terminations (Odessos, Salmydessos, Perinthos, Apsinthioi) seem to mark a route up the coast to the mouths of the Danube; probably a route opened up by Aegean sailors after the Second City of Troy had been burnt and while the site lay desolate.

The evidence for the provenance of King Khasakhemui’s gold, by the way, is interesting. A gold object found in this King’s tomb was covered with a red deposit which proved under chemical analysis to be Antimoniate of gold; but gold and Antimony will only combine in the presence of the rare element Tellurium.

It remained to look for a region in which gold, Antimony and Tellurium are found together-and geology has hitherto recorded only one, namely Transylvania.

It was to Egypt above all that Early and Middle Minoan civilization was indebted and with which it kept the closest communication. Middle Minoan vases — and their contents — regularly found their way to Egypt, and Egyptian finds in Crete are many and various. Ornaments of ivory, vases of Syenite and Diorite — models for the exquisite stone vases which Cretans at an early date were already making for themselves; scarabs, and bright blue faience beads; memorials of personal friendship, like the diorite statuette of an Egyptian, whose name is inscribed on it, found at Knossos; ostriches’ egg-shells — there was at one time a great vogue for these among wealthy Cretans, for use as vases; a whole range of designs on seals, perhaps the “trade-marks” of Cretan business houses whose connections lay towards Egypt; all these tell the same tale of close connection and all-pervading influence.

The seals are particularly interesting. One is shaped into the form of an ape; others show such designs as an ostrich; a camel, kneeling; the medicinal Silphium Herb of the Plateau of Kyrene. With these must be mentioned the Hippopotamus shown in relief on a weight from Knossos.

Trade and Egyptian influence had meanwhile suggested the invention of a system of writing; a pictographic syllabary, from which a “linear Script” had evolved before the end of the Middle Minoan Age.

In art, the ivory seals show the skill of the Cretan craftsmen, the stone vases their skill and their taste. Their painted pottery reaches the same high level; many lovers of Minoan art consider “M.M.II” its greatest age, as showing a purity of taste that is not always found in the “great palace period” of late Minoan times. Of work in the precious metals there was much, but for obvious reasons very little survives.

Politically, the age of Knossian imperialism was not yet. The two great “Middle Minoan” palaces of central Crete, at Knossos and Phaistos, north and south, might indeed be as has been suggested “the Windsor and Balmoral of a Cretan potentate”; bur recent discoveries (in 1925) by the French School of Archaeology suggest that we ought rather to imagine the island parcelled out into city-states, under dynasts who were both traders on the largest scale and also doubled the parts of High Priest and King.

At Mallia, along the coast, east of Knossos, the French School unearthed the palace of such a priest-king, with the loggia-shrine in which, it may be supposed, he performed sacred rites in the sight of the people assembled in the great court without.


(Minoan Houses :Faience plaques from Knossos, from Minoans, Philistines, and Greeks by A.R. Burn.).

Nearby, in a side chamber of the same loggia, were found two “truly regal” weapons. One was a magnificent ceremonial bronze axe-head, its surface chased with a connected-spiral pattern, and its butt end (for once, it is not a double axe) cunningly wrought into the shape of a leopard’s head and fore-paws, about to spring.

The other was a sword, the largest and by far the finest specimen yet discovered of the tapering Aegean thrusting blade.

“Its hilt, 8¼ inches long, had been decorated with finely engraved gold plate and terminated in a long faceted knob of rock crystal with here and there a hint of Amethyst.

Its length, about 3 feet 5 inches, exceeds by a good fifth that of any Bronze Age sword hitherto known. We have here in truth a Minoan Durendal”.

Suddenly and without warning, this brilliant period came to an end in widespread ruin and confusion.

A terrible volcanic eruption, towards the end of the seventeenth century, on the island of Thera, overwhelmed a flourishing town with the fate of Pompeii; and Sir Arthur Evans believes that it was in the first instance a great earthquake, part of the same catastrophe, that shattered the Cretan palaces and towns.

But signs are not lacking that political disturbance followed the disturbance of nature. Crete was certainly not invaded from without; for after the troubles Cretan civilization starts again without interruption “where it left off”, and is still, as before, supreme in the south Aegean. Moreover, after as before the troubles Cretan towns remain unfortified — clearly relying on their sea-power to keep external enemies at arm’s length.

But the disaster was followed by a complete re-orientation of the foreign policy of the chief power in the island; a re-orientation that suggests a shifting of the political centre of gravity from Phaistos close to the south coast to Knossos on the North.

Henceforward, though paintings from the tombs of Egyptian court officials under the Eighteenth Dynasty depict typical Minoan Cretans among bearers of tribute to Pharaoh — and typical objects of Late Minoan art among the gifts that they bring — yet Late Minoan objects are on the whole comparatively scarce in Egypt.

Cretan energies have been diverted into a new channel. It was in the years following the earthquake that the first Cretan settlers landed in Argolis.

It is Arguable that the Cretan features of the “Mycenaean” civilization now introduced into Greece may have been due to trade and peaceful penetration. They may; but it seems exceedingly unlikely.

The change from the native Helladic to the imported Mycenaean — i.e. Late Minoan — culture is altogether too sudden and too profound. It is rather by colonization and conquest, whether at first fiercely resisted we cannot tell, that so complete a metamorphosis must have been brought about.

The civilization of the Argolid in the succeeding centuries is simply Late Minoan; Cretan in Religion, in language (at least at first, as shown by the script), in art, in social life and amusements, and in dress.

Colonization must be postulated to account for all this. And the fact, that certain definite and significant differences are also observable, can best be explained on the theory, inherently probable from what is known of colonization by Mediterranean races in historic times, that the Cretan immigrants intermarried with the more numerous Greek-speaking natives, who were perhaps called Danaans; until, while the higher civilization survived, the Cretan language and nationality had been almost totally submerged.

The Cretan colonization seems to have proceeded in two waves. First, settlements are established at various selected points north and south of the Isthmus of Corinth, Mykenai being from the first an important stronghold; and a couple of generations of consolidation follow. Relations with the natives were clearly friendly, almost if not quite from the settlers’ first arrival, and the civilization of the neighbouring native city-states such as Orchomenos in Boiotia and Minoan Corinth on her isthmus (the modern Krakou) shows during these years a strong tendency to imitate that of the newcomers.

Then, about the middle of the sixteenth century, the area of the Minoan civilization spreads. Evidently the powerful lords of Mykenai felt their kingdom firmly established and the time ripe for an advance; and a strong body of new colonists must have arrived from Crete. In all directions the advance is simultaneous, definite, and wisely limited.

All the colonies founded become in a few years strong and prosperous. There is no such thing as a precariously-held Minoan settlement. The movement is not the vogue “push” of a barbaric people feeling the need for expansion, but the deliberate and well-conceived action of a civilized nation proceeding according to a plan.

Colonization is by no means confined to the Argolid. Clearly Knossos, while reinforcing Mykenai, has other plans also. Settlements appear not only at Corinth, and throughout the Argolid, but also at Thorikos in south-eastern Attica, at Thebes and Orchomenos, and presently as far as Iolkos at the head of its sheltered gulf, under Mount Pelion, on the coast of Thessaly.

Westward, too, the new sea-borne civilization appears at selected points round the coast of the Peloponnese; in Lakonia, in Messenia, in southern Elis, and in the western isles, at Leukas, which perhaps then bore the name Ithaka. The settlements correspond very closely to the capitals of the kingdoms named in Homer.

Plentiful finds of the northern amber at Kakovatos on the west coast of the Peloponnese, in what was later to be Nestor’s kingdom of Pylos, give a clue to the trade by which Leukas soon grew wealthy; while ivory at the same site attests the continuation of the trade-route via Crete to Egypt and “the lands where the elephants are”.


( Plan of Gournia ( after Boyd Hawes), from Minoans, Philistines, and Greeks by A.R. Burn.).

Characteristically Cretan is the formless “agglutinative architecture” as it has been called of the “labyrinthine” palaces of this date at Tiryns and Thebes, in which the northern “megaron” is conspicuously absent. Characteristically Minoan, too, are the frescoes with which artists familiar with the splendours of imperial Knossos adorned Tirynthian and Theban walls; and most interesting of all, Minoan is the writing which, before the sixteenth century ended, the men of Orchomenos seem to have been adapting to the purposes of a non-Cretan language. If this language was Greek, it gives us the best of grounds for the hope that the script may someday be deciphered.

The Argolid is one of the regions in which it is possible to hope that we may one day find a bi-lingual document; and indeed, even as I write comes the rumour of an important step in advance, in the shape of a newspaper report that the Swedish archaeologists under Professor Persson have discovered there a graffito of eight Minoan words in Greek script, and that their leader has with this assistance been able to identify the Cretan language as akin to the non-Aryan elements in Albanian.

N.B. Lakodaemon’s Note to reader as follows,

(Illyrian would be a far more accurate description than ‘Albanian’ as ‘Albanians’ descend from peoples in the Caucasus region called originally ‘Albania’ and originally brought over by Byzantine and later Ottoman Empires and settled in the region now commonly known as Albania but actually historical and culturally better known as Ancient Illyria).

This, then, is the setting into which fit the numerous Greek legends of the cultural and especially the religious influence of prehistoric Crete, and of the civilizing influence of strangers from over the sea. Rather curiously, the eponymous hero Danaos was said in historic times to have come not from Crete, but from Egypt, and Kadmos of Boiotia not from Crete but from Phoenicia;

N.B. Lakodaemon’s note to reader as follows,

(but this could just as likely be Minoan/Mycenaean colonists returning from their settlements in those lands to further bolster Minoan colonization in these regions of Greece),

but archaeology shows no sign of immigration at any period from either of those lands. On the contrary, we know that it was from Crete that the founders of new and powerful kingdoms came; from Crete that a sea-borne settler introduced into Boiotia, as the Legend of Kadmos tells, the first writing seen on the mainland. Phoenicia and Egypt have been substituted by later Greeks who knew those countries as homes of ancient civilization, while that of Crete had passed and left hardly even its name behind.


( THE KEFTIU IN EGYPT : Frescoes from the Tomb of Rhekh-ma-ra, The Precesion of Keftiu, from Minoans, Philistines, and Greeks by A.R. Burn.).

Still other traditions remain in which the Cretan name has been preserved. The old “Homeric” Hymn to the Pythian Apollo told how the first priests of the oracle of Delphoi had been brought across the sea and up the Corinthian Gulf to the port of Krissa by the especial guidance of the Dolphian-God; “Cretans from Minoan Knossos” they were, we are told, “who were bound after business and profit to sandy Pylos in their dark ship”.

So the priestly corporation of the Labyades at Delphoi in historic times look as if they were originally Labryades, servants of the Double Axe — the Cretan Labrys! A name reminiscent of the sacred “Labrys” occurs also across the gulf, at Patrai (Modern Patras) and Messene, where in Roman times they worshipped a goddess Laphria, identified with Artemis, and kept a festival called the Laphria in honour of her.


( THE KEFTIU IN EGYPT : Frescoes from the Tomb of Rhekh-ma-ra, The Precesion of Keftiu continued, from Minoans, Philistines, and Greeks by A.R. Burn.).

The name was expressly said to be derived from the region round Delphoi; where votive double-axes of bronze have in fact been found. The same title recurs in the western isles in Kephallenia, but this time only as an epithet attached to a goddess who has kept her Cretan name, Britomartis, “Sweet Maiden” — for the Mother Goddess is also worshipped under the title of the Virgin.


( THE KEFTIU IN EGYPT : Frescoes from the Tomb of Rhekh-ma-ra, Recording of the gifts of the Keftiu by egyptian officials, from Minoans, Philistines, and Greeks by A.R. Burn.).

On the other side of Greece, again, Athens has her legend of the Cretan Bull of Marathon, and the “Cretan Garment” which her chief religious magistrate wore when offering sacrifice.

It was now that the vine and the olive were introduced into Greece; and in the case of the olive, at least, one of the various legends of its discovery correctly described it as having been introduced from Crete.

There was a Cretan culture-hero of legend whom the early Greeks, after their fashion, identified with their favourite, Herakles.

It was one of the triumphs of Greek criticism in a later, more self-conscious age, that it detected this identification and drew a perfectly correct distinction between the introducer of the olive and founder of the Olympian sanctuary, and the tempestuous Greek Giant, chiefly distinguished as a sacker of cities, like the Achaian and proto-Dorian that he was.

Another of the great productive achievements of the colonists was the reclaiming of Lake Kopais, in Boiotia, by well-conceived and executed drainage-works, which the historic Greeks (the tunnels having become blocked) never even seriously attempted to restore.

But for all the flood of Cretan influence, some native traits survive. The old matt-painted pottery of the Greek mainland was still produced, for example, and in some cases even where the decoration of a pot is typically Minoan, it is clear that the mainlanders preferred the graceful shapes characteristic of their own old “Minyan” ware.

The kings of “rich Mykenai”, known to us in all but name from Schliemann’s discovery of their graves, with all their treasure of gold, were in most matters of culture Minoan princes, but not in all.

They were bearded, for instance, whereas Cretans were clean-shaven; and most significant of all, they were buried in “shaft-graves”, after the fashion of the old mainland cist, within the bounds of the old native cemetery. The inference is clear. The Greek legend told how the bringers of civilization from over the sea had taken to themselves wives of the daughters of the land; here is an example.

The kings of Mykenai had from the first been careful to preserve, in the important matter of burial-rites, for instance, continuity with the dynasty which they were replacing. Within a century, the land was already making its influence felt, and the grandson of a Cretan colonist was in a fair way to feel himself, no longer a transplanted Cretan, but an Argive and a Danaan; in the language of a later century, a Greek.


A study of the Bronze Age by James Thomas

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store