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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

High mtDNA affinity between Bronze Age Minoans and Western Europeans

The first ever study on the ancient DNA of Minoans suggests that these enigmatic Bronze Age inhabitants of Crete were very similar in terms of mtDNA to present-day Cretans. Overall the Minoan sample shows the greatest affinity to the modern population of the Lasithi Plateau, in eastern Crete, where it originated. But here's the other really interesting part: as per the spatial maps below, the Minoan mtDNA sequences also show unexpectedly high affinity to those of modern English (a) and Bronze Age Sardinians and Iberians (b). See also Table 1 from the paper, where the top ten "nearest neighbors" to the Minoan sample are ancient and extant Western European populations.

So the results imply genetic links between Bronze Age Crete and Western Europe. Now, Martinez et al. 2007 found that 36.6% of Cretans from the Lasithi Plateau belonged to Y-chromosome haplogroup R1b. They only tested 41 individuals, but that's still an interesting result for Southeastern Europe, where R1b is generally uncommon. Indeed, perhaps the Minoans carried a much higher frequency of R1b, and they (or a related seafaring culture) spread this marker to Western Europe via maritime routes, where it has since become the most important Y-chromosome haplogroup? It's a valid question considering the ancient mtDNA data. The pics of Minoan bull leaping and Spanish bullfighting below are courtesy of Wikipedia (see here).

Update 16/05/2013: To add to my comments above about the Minoans, or a related group, being potentially responsible for the introduction of Y-DNA R1b to Western Europe, it's interesting to note that one of the Minoan mtDNA sequences belonged to the rare H13a1a haplogroup.

Both H13a1a and R1b were recently found in late Neolithic Bell Beaker remains from Germany (see here). Moreover, today H13a1a shows a peak in frequency and diversity in the Caucasus, particularly in Dagestan, but also occurs at low frequencies in Italy, Sardinia and Iberia. Interestingly, R1b is found at fairly high frequencies among some ethnic groups in and around Dagestan, like the Lezgins, and it's obviously also common in Italy and Iberia.

So what am I getting at? Well, it looks like a group with loads of R1b from what is now Dagestan or surrounds - perhaps the deep ancestors of Bell Beakers and Minoans - learned to sail, crossed the Mediterranean Sea from east to west, settled a few islands along the way, and eventually their descendants conquered much of Western and Central Europe. This is certainly not the most parsimonious theory of how R1b might have appeared on the scene in Western Europe during the late Neolithic, but it does make sense considering all the data.

But what might have caused this purported population movement from the Caucasus, and is it a coincidence that both R1a and R1b only appear among European ancient DNA from the late Neolithic onwards? It's unlikely that the Minoans and Bell Beakers were part of the Indo-European expansion, but perhaps their ancestors in the Caucasus felt the pressure of this expansion from the steppe to the north, which was at that time most likely dominated by Kurgan groups high in R1a?

Update 18/05/2013: Maju isn't convinced that the gradient maps and "nearest neighbor" analysis show explicit links between the Minoan and post-Neolithic Western European mtDNA gene pools. He calls it a "pseudo-affinity" which should be taken with a pinch of salt (see here). Moreover, he suggests the Minoan mtDNA shows closest links to early European Neolithic mtDNA because of four HVS-1 sequence matches.

But the high affinity between the Minoan and post-Neolithic Western European mtDNA can be seen clearly in two different analyses, so it's real, even if mostly indirect. Therefore, there's no need to take the results with a pinch of salt, they should just be viewed in their proper context. In other words, this affinity is certainly not due to a massive invasion of Western Europe by Minoan women, but the result of the same processes acting on the post-Neolithic Western European and Minoan mtDNA gene pools, which probably included some direct gene flow from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe during the Bronze Age.


Hughey et al., A European population in Minoan Bronze Age Crete, Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1861, doi:10.1038/ncomms2871, Published 14 May 2013

Martinez et al., Paleolithic Y-haplogroup heritage predominates in a Cretan highland plateau, European Journal of Human Genetics (2007) 15, 485–493. doi:10.1038/sj.ejhg.5201769; published online 31 January 2007


Ricardo Muñoz said...

I just thought you might be interested in a more Cretan variety of bullfighting that is virtually unknown outside of Spain. See here: for a short video and here: for photos.

Colin Welling said...

"the Minoan mtDNA also shows high affinity to that of modern English",

Except that the paper claimed Greeks were the most related and that West Europe was among the least related based on the plot below. Connecting r1b to a flimsy Minoan-British mtdna origin hypothesis, when r1b doesn't even reflect said connection, appears forced.

The genetic marker that best collaborates r1b's origin, as sugested by it's diversity and ancestral lineages, is the supposed "North European" populations that admixed with Iberians in the 3rd millennium BC. Both r1b and this "North European" admixture point to a migration from central Europe around the same time. Other possibilities are still open but, that one has the best support.

Colin Welling said...

Note: the r1b in Crete resembles the r1b in Northeast Italy, over the r1b in Turkey and the Balkans. Therefore, it looks like Creten r1b was an outlier to the area, and not the Center of some massive flow that would have left a much greater mark on the Balkans and Turkey.

If r1b actually has a long presence in Crete, one hypothesis would be that north Italian maritime bb made their way to Crete. But, I dong know if that has support.

Archaeologist77 said...

Any word on the haplogroups of the ancient Minoan mtDNA? did they recover any other DNA from these Bronze Age skeletal remains?

As far as R1b, it's only speculation until there is hard evidence from Minoan skeletal remains excavated in situ in an excavation...hopefully one day, but I don't think YDNA is preserved very well in the Mediterranean region.

Davidski said...

The paper lists the haplogroups and is open access.

See also the supplementary information for more details.

No other DNA was recovered, but according to press reports they're now trying to get nuclear DNA from the same samples.

As for ancient Y-DNA from the Mediterranean Basin, I think we'll see quite a few results soon thanks to next-generation sequencing.

Davidski said...

There are some sequences in the Minoan sample which are uncommon in Western Europe, and vice versa, and this affects the results of the PCA. However, many of the other sequences show very high affinity to sequences from Western Europe. That's why on the gradient maps above and in the table below, the most similar samples to the Minoan sample are from Western Europe.

I've made some changes to the post to underline this.

Colin Welling said...

This crap is taking forever. Wasn't Sandra Wilde already supposed to have published adna by now? She just went to the dguf conference, wonder what she presented.

Davidski said...

Looks like she's out skydiving, or hang gliding or something.

Davidski said...

I found a PDF about that DGUF conference.

Grey said...

very interesting

António Vitor said...

the minoan bullfighting looks a lot more like the portuguese bullfighting than the spanish one.

andrew said...

I have argued on linguistic grounds that Minoan is part of a greater Hurrian cultural sphere, and Hurrian has in turn been associated linguistically with the N. Caucasian languages including the language of Dagestan. A link of Basque to the N. Caucasian languages at a 5000 year+ time depth is one of the more plausible theories for its origin.

The Minoan culture in Crete derives from Western Anatolia at roughly the same time that the Bell Beaker culture appears in SW Iberia (ca. 3100 BCE), and of course, the Minoans and Portuguese seem to place cultural importance on events with bulls.

The Caucasians right around modern Sochi were involved in some of the most important innovations in metallurgy at the time and the Proto-Indo-Europeans are likely receivers rather than originators of metallurgy technologies from this source. It wouldn't be at all implausible in my mind for the Sochi region's original metallurgists to have been Caucasian language speakers who expanded on the strength of their metallurgy technology (perhaps by ship as well as by land) to Anatolia, the Zargos Mountains, Sumeria, Crete and Portugal at about the same time that neighboring Proto-Indo-Europeans borrowing their technologies expand on the European Steppe.

These two cultures of common origin, in turn, have a thousand year plus standoff in Europe because their technologies, having a common origin, are in rough parity to each other. The bottom drops out of the Sochi source peoples ca. 2000 BCE as Indo-Europeans expand into new lands during a serious drought period that weakens the prevailing culture, but can't expand fast enough to displace the Bell Beaker people until that culture stumbles at the time of Bronze Age collapse ca. 1200 BCE.

andrew said...

These people may have been part of the Copper Age Kura-Arxes culture discussed here (from Georgia to Dagestan) which reaches as far as the headwaters of the Euphrates river and spawned the Khirbet-Kerak culture in Eastern Anatolia and the Yanik culture in NW Iran. These culture's expansion provides a vehicle for Caucasian linguistic influence to expand into Anatolia where Hurrian was spoken, the Zargos Mountains and Sumeria - notably from North to South and not the other way around. The K-A culture was also influential in Armenia, placings a non-Indo-European culture's archaeological remains there in the Copper Age and belying a case for Armenia as a PIE Urheimat. The use of moats and walls around larger settlements at the peak of K-A's rapid expansion of larger settlements shows similarities to the structures described at the Portuguese Enclosures Blog around the time of early Bell Beaker. (Sochi was actually in the adjacent Western Transcausus culture at that time, not the K-A culture) which first show Maykop influence but later K-A culture and K-A influenced metallurgic centers.

Davidski said...

So what do you think of the Kura-Arxes and related cultures being responsible for the spread of R1b and ANE across the Near East, and also via maritime routes into Western Europe? There are relatively very high levels of ANE in the Northeast Caucasus, occasionally at well over 20%, with the rest being Near Eastern ancestry. So an expansion south from that region would only be picked up as minor ANE across the relevant parts of the Near East.

At the same time, it makes sense to posit the Proto-Indo-European expansion north of the Caucasus as the vehicle for the spread of R1a and ANE across the eastern half of Europe.

John Walsh said...

You might like my analysis of the Bull Leaper's Fresco.

I'm Irish with R1B but my DNA is closer to Catalan, Majorca, Northern Italian than Irish R1B.

vanda said...

Tell Halala MtDNA H13a1a 9,000 BC
Y DNA R1b1 9,000 BC
Crete 9,000-7,000 L. plate H13a1a,H13c, R1b1

Balkans 5500-6000- R1b1

Kura-Araxes 5,000 bc H13 and R1b1

IE north route Black Sea to Germany R1b1a2 M269