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New DNA Study On The Origins of The First Civilizations of Greece Reveals Armenian Traces

New DNA Study On The Origins of The First Civilizations of Greece Reveals Armenian Traces

Some of Europe’s earliest traces of civilization are found in modern Greece along the Aegean sea. During the Bronze Age, two prominent archaeological cultures emerged in the Aegean. The culture of the island of Crete, sometimes referred to as ‘Minoan’, was Europe’s first literate civilization, and has been described as ‘Europe’s first major experience of civilization’. However, the Linear A syllabic ideographic and Cretan hieroglyphic scripts used by this culture remain undeciphered, obscuring its origins. Equally important was the civilization of the ‘Mycenaean’ culture of mainland Greece, whose language, written in the Linear B script, was an early form of Greek.

But where did these civilizations come from and who were these people that build some of the first civilizations in Europe?

Scholars have long debated the origins of the Greeks whose language, like that of the Armenians, belongs to the Indo-European family tree. Robert Drews in his book The Coming of the Greeks (1988) described how the ancestors of the Greeks came to Europe from the Armenian Plateau bringing with them their Indo-European language and their inventions of chariot riding and horse breeding.

"It is certain that the inhabitants of the forested areas of Armenia very early became accomplished woodworkers, and it now appears that in the second millennium they produced spoked-wheel vehicles that served as models as far away as China. And we have long known that from the second millennium onward, Armenia was important for the breeding of horses. It is thus not surprising to find that what clues we have suggest that chariot warfare was pioneered in eastern Anatolia. Finally, our picture of what the PIE (Proto-Indo-European) speakers did, and when, owes much to the recently proposed hypothesis that the homeland of the PIE speakers was Armenia."

Indeed one of several theories on the origins of the Indo-European language places its homeland in the Armenian Highlands.

Some of the world’s oldest traces of human transition from hunting gathering to farming, can be found on the Armenian Highlands. It is therefore not a surprise that many scholars believe that the Indo-European language originated on this Highland. Similar observations have been made regarding early European art and its similarities with ancient Armenian art. 

Common ancestry for the Armenians and the Greeks have long been hypothesized by both ancient historians and modern linguists. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus (440 BC) believed that Armenians had Greek ancestry being related to Phrygian colonists. Several linguists have similarly proposed a Graeco-Armenian language hypothesis based on similarities between the Greek and Armenian language. Professors at the University of Auckland Russell D. Gray and Quentin D. Atkinson (2003) equally supports a Graeco-Armenian subgroup and dated the split between the Armenian and Greek languages to 7000 years ago.

As science progresses however studies investigating ancient DNA offer a more comprehensive understanding of the past based on genetics of ancient and modern people. A brand new DNA study on the Genetic origins of the Minoans and Mycenaeans, published in Nature magazine and led by Iosif Lazaridis (2017), a population geneticist at Harvard University, has shed much needed light on the origins of the ancient Greek civilizations.

They have tested the DNA of 19 ancient individuals. 10 Minoans from Crete dated to approximately 2900-1700 BC, 4 Mycenaeans from mainland Greece (approximately 1700-1200 BC), 1 individual from a village interestingly called Armenoi (Greek: Αρμένοι for Armenians) in western Crete (approximately 1370-1340 BC), 1 sample from the southern Peloponnese (about 5400 BC), and 3 Bronze Age (2800–1800 BC) individuals from Harmanören Göndürle in southwestern Anatolia (modern Turkey).

The study revealed that the ancestors of the Greeks, the ancient Minoans and Mycenaeans were genetically related to one another and trace their origins from the ancient people of Anatolia and the Armenian Highlands. Especially during the Bronze Age when the more advanced and creative civilizations were formed, the Armenian genetic influx appears to be the strongest, prompting the authors of the study to call them “bearers of innovations”: 

Death mask, known as the Mask of Agamemnon, 16th c. BC, the most famous artifact of Mycenaean Greece.

Considering that the ancestral homeland of Armenians encompasses a large portion of Eastern Anatolia, Northern Iran and even Syria (extending way beyond the borders of the modern Republic of Armenia) it is safe to assume that perhaps the Anatolian (and other) genes of the ancient Mycenaeans equally trace their origin to the ancient Armenians, as they too posses a great deal of genetics considered “Anatolian” by modern geneticists. In other words it’s entirely possible that the Anatolian side of the Mycenaeans also came from ancient Armenians, simply because the genes known as “Anatolian” are also common with Armenians. 

The “Anatolian” genes aside it is equally possible that even the “Eastern Hunter Gatherer” and the so called “Iran-related” ancestries found within the predecessors of the Greeks came from ancient Armenia.

The Lion Gate was the main entrance to the Bronze Age citadel of Mycenae, the center of the Mycenaean civilization.

Regardless of the various possibilities of how the ancient Greeks received Armenian genetics, it is evident that ancient Armenian genetics played a role in the formation of the early Greek ethnos. Further support could be gained by analyzing ancient DNA samples from the many archaeological sites in historic Armenian territory in today’s Eastern Turkey, which the Turkish academia has yet to release.

Indeed the ancestors of those who build the first civilizations in Europe seem to have come wholly or at least partially from the Armenian Plateau through Anatolia all the way into Greece, bringing with them their Proto-Indo-European language which later would evolve into Greek. 

Considering that some of the oldest traces of the Neolithic Revolution are found on the Armenian Plateau in the eastern parts of Anatolia, it is safe to say that the invention of farming spread to western Anatolia and later further into Europe including Greece from the Armenian Plateau. This would also explain well the genetic affinity that exists between the Armenians and the Anatolian farmers and the ancient Greeks. The spread of civilization connects all of these groups both genetically and linguistically, irregardless of how distinct they became in later millennia. 

This dancing Minoan woman from a fresco at Knossos, Crete (1600–1450 B.C.E.)

All in all it’s an interesting study, that inevitably raises a lot of new questions, but provides us with much needed insight into the genetic origins of some of the earliest European civilizations.

Click here to read a full version of the article.


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