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Minoan monkeys reveal ancient cultural interconnections

The monkeys featured in several frescos in Minoan Greece suggests the civilisation was familiar with multiple monkey species, none of which were indigenous to the region.

Researchers studying the ‘blue’ monkeys in Bronze Age frescos from Minoan Greece have found they’re incredibly accurate, to the point that researchers can even identify the genus of monkey.

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At the 3,600-year-old settlement of Akrotiri, Thera, vervet monkeys are commonly depicted. Their rounded greyish/black muzzle, white band on the forehead, long arms and legs, and extended tail are all key indicators.

Meanwhile, at Knossos, Crete, baboons appear to be depicted. The narrow waist but thick chest, projecting face and hairless nose are a good match for the primates.

Crucially, the behaviours of both monkeys match up to their real-life counterparts. The vervet monkeys are depicted climbing, whilst baboons are seen on the ground. This would suggest that the artists had seen, or had contact with people who had encountered these animals.

Such contact is notable as neither species of monkey is native to the Minoan region, both being found in North-eastern Africa. There is alleged evidence of Minoan contact with the continent, but these monkeys provide some of the strongest proof to support such a theory.

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There is one contradiction, monkeys aren’t blue, however, cultural particularities and trends often influence how colours are categorised. In some cultures this results as blue being viewed as part of the grey-green spectrum.

Perhaps this happed among the Minoans, explaining why the coloured grey/green monkeys are depicted blue. Alternatively, they could be borrowing the colouration from the Ancient Egyptians who used blue in scared contexts.

Either way, this case of ‘archaeoprimatology’ sheds new light on Minoan frescoes and provides insight into the surprisingly interconnected world of Ancient Greece.

Antiquity

Header Image Credit : Antiquity

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
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