Study using archaeogenetics reveals news insights in Minoan marriage

A new study from the Max Planck Institute, working with a team of international partners, has revealed new insights into marriage by the Minoans and the social order of the Aegean Bronze Age.

The Minoans were a Bronze Age Aegean civilisation on the island of Crete and other Aegean Islands, rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans.

The civilisation first emerged around 3500 BC, developing an advanced culture that constructed large palace complexes, art and writing systems, supported by a network of trade throughout the Mediterranean.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) have analysed over 100 genomes of Bronze Age people, creating the first biological family tree of a Mycenaean family in regions with problematic DNA preservation due to climate conditions.

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The study focused on a Mycenaean hamlet from the 16th century BC, where it has been possible to reconstruct the kinship of the house’s inhabitants. The data reveals that several sons from the hamlet lived there into adulthood, and that their children were buried in a tomb under the courtyard of the estate. One of the wives who married into the house also brought her sister into the family, where her daughter was also buried in the same grave.

The researchers were also able to show that it was customary to marry one’s first cousin on Crete and the other Greek islands 4,000 years ago. “More than a thousand ancient genomes from different regions of the world have now been published, but it seems that such a strict system of kin marriage did not exist anywhere else in the ancient world,” says Eirini Skourtanioti, the lead author of the study who conducted the analyses. “This came as a complete surprise to all of us and raises many questions.”

This marriage rule was likely to prevent the inherited farmland within families from being divided, in order to ensure a continuity of the family in one place. “What is certain is that the analysis of ancient genomes will continue to provide us with fantastic new insights into ancient family structures in the future,” adds Skourtanioti.

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Header Image Credit : Nikola Nevenov


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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is an 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 and the BCA Medal of Honour.

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