The Greeks are descendants of the Mycenaeans, DNA study confirms

Mycenaean Greeks DNA
The tomb of Clytemnestra in Mycenae. Credit: Jean Housen /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

DNA evidence shows that Greeks are indeed descendants of the Mycenaeans, who ruled mainland Greece and the Aegean Sea from 1,600 BC to 1,200 BC

The evidence comes from a well-publicized 2017 study in which scientists analyzed the tooth genes of nineteen people at various archaeological sites in mainland Greece and Crete.

These included ten Minoan from Crete dated from 2900 BC to 1700 BC, four Mycenaean from the archaeological site of Mycenae and other cemeteries on the Greek mainland dated from 1700 BC to 1200 BC to 1340 BC) cultures in Greece and Turkey.

By comparing 1.2 million letters of the genetic code, the researchers, who published their study in the journal, Naturethey were able to trace how individuals were related to each other.

DNA overlap has been discovered between modern Greeks and Mycenaeans

After comparing the DNA of modern Greeks with the ancient Mycenaeans, a genetic overlap was discovered which suggests that these ancient Bronze Age civilizations laid the genetic foundation for later peoples.

Grecian Delight supports Greece

The continuity between the Mycenaeans and living people is “especially striking given that the Aegean has been a crossroads of civilizations for thousands of years,” said co-author George Stamatoyannopoulos of the University of Washington in Seattle.

This suggests that major ancestry components of the Greeks were already present in the Bronze Age after the migration of early farmers from Anatolia set the pattern for the genetic makeup of the Greeks and, in fact, most Europeans.

“The spread of agricultural populations was the decisive moment when the main elements of the Greek population had already been provided,” says archaeologist Colin Renfrew of the University of Cambridge in the UK, who was not involved in the work.

Mycenaean Greeks DNA
Mycenaean fresco depicting a woman. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

Links between Minoans and Mycenaeans have also been found

One aspect that was revealed in the study was how closely the Mycenaeans themselves were related to the Minoan civilization, which flourished on the island of Crete from 2000 BC to 1400 BC.

Both cultures have been shown to carry the genes for brown hair and brown eyes, characteristics which are reflected in their frescoes and pottery despite having different languages.

The ancient Mycenaeans and Minoans were the most closely related to each other, and both got three-quarters of their DNA from early farmers living in Greece and southwestern Anatolia, which is now part of Turkey, the team reports today in Nature.

Both cultures also inherited DNA from people from the eastern Caucasus near present-day Iran, suggesting an early migration of people from the east after the first farmers settled there but before the Mycenaeans split from the Minoans.

The Mycenaeans had one important difference: They had 4 to 16 percent DNA from northern ancestors that came from Eastern Europe or Siberia.

According to Harvard population geneticist Iosif Lazaridis, any differences between the two civilizations suggest that a second wave of people came to mainland Greece from Eastern Europe but were unable to reach the island of Crete. In time they became known as Mycenaeans.

Swedish archaeologist Kristian Kristiansen of the University of Gothenburg recently commented on the importance of the study, saying that ‘the findings have now opened the next chapter in the genetic history of western Eurasia and that of the Bronze Age Mediterranean’.

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