The Minoan palace at Knossos, Crete.
by Sam Topalidis 2019
1. Who Were the Greeks?
Many features associated with the Greeks, including the Greek language, have origins which may be traced back to before the beginning of the Mycenaean Civilization [1600 BC]. The Greek language may have developed further within the territory we call today modern Greece, very much earlier, i.e. from before 3000 BC. The Mycenaeans probably did not think of themselves as being ‘Greek’ (Hellenic), but rather belonging to the small palace-centred states of the Late Bronze Age [1600–1200 BC]. The concept of ‘national’ identity became explicit and self-conscious later at the time of the Persian Wars (Renfrew 2010, pp. L–Li). Even the ancient Greek historian, Thucydides (5th century BC), acknowledged that the ancient Greeks knew little of their prehistoric Hellenes (Note 1).
This paper is a product of a review of the academic literature on the origins of the people of the Greek peninsula and Greek islands including Cyprus before 800 BC. It covers a range of disciplines including: archaeology, ancient history, anthropology, linguistics and recent studies of ancient DNA. Collectively these studies provide fascinating insights into the past, but answers to many questions remain elusive.
1.2 Hominins in Greece
In general terms, there were several migrations of hominins like Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis well over a million years ago ‘out of Africa’ into Eurasia. They were followed much later from around 100,000 years ago, ‘out of Africa’, by several migrations of modern humans (Homo sapiens). Today, only we modern humans have survived.
In southern Greece, the oldest-dated evidence of early hominin presence (with a secure, stratified context) is at around 500,000–400,000 years ago (Tourloukis and Harvati 2017). [There was most probably earlier hominins here—but no confirmed evidence has been found.] There was also hominin presence in the caves at Petralona in Macedonia c. 350,000–150,000 years ago (Tourloukis 2016). Two fossilised partial human crania from southern Greece have been dated to more than 170,000 years ago (with a purported Neanderthal-like morphology) and more than 210,000 years ago (with a suggested mixture of Homo sapien [yet to be proven] and primitive features) (Harvati et al. 2019).
In addition, stone tools have been uncovered in Crete and proposed to date to at least 130,000 years ago [the age has been questioned] providing evidence of hominid occupation (Strasser et al. 2011). This raises the possibility of very early seafaring in order to reach Crete. Was this possible then?
Conventional knowledge state that modern humans arrived in Europe by around 45,000 years ago (Figure 1). [At 40,000 years ago, small groups of hunter-gatherers roamed mainland Greece (Pomeroy et al. 2018).] Around 15,000 years ago, a largely homogeneous set of hunter-gatherers became dominant in most of Europe, but with some admixture from Siberian hunter-gatherers in the eastern part of the continent (Lazaridis, 2018, p. 21).
In southern Greece, about 10000 BC, life changed dramatically as the ice sheets began to melt and the sea level rose due to a warmer climate. [This created more Greek islands in the Aegean.] By about 8000 BC, the hunter-gatherers of the Franchthi Cave in southern Greece were regularly gathering wild oats and wild barley, as well as wild legumes, including lentils, peas and beans. They also used obsidian [volcanic glass] obtained from the Aegean Island of Melos which is located 130 km away (Pomeroy et al. 2018, p. 16). So seafaring was occurring at this time.
Figure 1: Part of the Homo sapien ‘out of Africa’ migration (Reich 2018, p. 88)
2. The Origin of Farming
2.1 Fertile Crescent
Land cultivation by settled groups began independently, at more or less the same time, in different clusters throughout the Fertile Crescent, i.e. south Levant [Israel and Palestine], north Syria, south-east Anatolia [modern day Turkey], northern Iraq and the Zagros Mountains in south-west Iran. Crops were different from one cluster to another. Such a pattern has been identified at 11 sites which date between 9500 and 9000 BC. At that time and in these sites, farming was crop-based. Settlers at these sites were not yet herders and continued to hunt game (Willcox 2013, p. 39).
Some studies on ancient DNA (e.g. Lazaridis et al. 2016) report that at the time farming first arose, populations in different parts of the Fertile Crescent had minimal interaction since their ancestries had first diverged many millennia earlier. This confirms many archaeologists’ view that farming here had no single source, but came together out of several components from different, smaller source areas within the broad arc of the Fertile Crescent (Heggarty 2018, p. 149). The spread of ideas and farming moved faster than the spread of people (Lazaridis et al. 2016).
2.2 First Farmers in Cyprus
Humans who must have been early seafarers arrived in Cyprus by 11000 BC when hunter-gatherers appear, followed by colonists during 9000–6800 BC (Voskarides et al. 2016). People established villages on Cyprus from between 9100 and 8600 BC. By at least 8600 BC, these groups cultivated plants which were introduced from the Levant [Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Syria] and hunted small indigenous wild boar (Vigne et al. 2012). It appears they were Europe’s first farmers. Subsequent influential episodes of settlement and commerce occurred during 5200–4000 BC (Voskarides et al. 2016).
2.3 First Farmers in Greece
The languages of the small groups of the first farmers, who moved from Anatolia to Greece, must have belonged to a non-Indo-European language that was present in Anatolia (Anthony and Ringe 2015). [See Note 2 for the theories for the homeland of the Indo-European languages in either Anatolia or the Ukraine/Russian steppe.] The stimulus for the spread of agriculture to Europe was a maritime colonisation movement involving small groups of people (Perlès 2001). These first farmers did not speak Greek—the later Mycenaeans were the first people who spoke an early form of Greek on the Greek mainland.
The first farmers reached Knossos on Crete around 7000 BC, [up to] 500 years before farmers reached the Greek mainland (Bellwood 2013). The first farmers, who came from Anatolia, brought domesticated plants and animals (Douka et al. 2017). In Crete, several pioneer groups, of no more than a few hundred persons altogether, would have been sufficient to sustain the expansion in this period in Greece, especially if they interacted and married with indigenous groups. Hunter-gatherers were indeed present on the Greek mainland when the first farmers arrived. [If hunter-gatherers were not absent from Crete, they were not numerous (Douka et al. 2017)]. Even though their respective territories do not seem to have overlapped in the early period of settlement, the local hunter-gatherers probably came in contact with sedentary villagers (Perlès 2001, p. 45).
The earliest Greek farmers grew the same ‘founder crops’ that were produced in the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea (around the Near East): emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, barley, peas, lentils, chickpeas, fava beans and flax (Pomeroy et al. 2018).
During the Greek Neolithic period [7000–3000 BC], the main area of habitation in mainland Greece was in the north in well-watered Thessaly, where villages were larger than those in the south (Pomeroy et al. 2018).
In addition, the farmers from the Peloponnese (southern Greece) who lived around 4000 BC may have derived part of their ancestry from a different source population in Anatolia—a population that descended more from Iranian-related populations than was the case in the north-western Anatolian farmers who were a likely source population for the rest of Europe’s farmers (Reich 2018, p. 105).
3. Settlements in Greece and Cyprus 4000–1100 BC
3.1 The Minoan Civilization
As stated previously, at about 7000 BC, Crete was colonised by farmers from Anatolia. These farmers and subsequent waves of migrants established the first advanced European civilization, the Minoan civilization, which flourished in Crete [from at least 2000 BC] to about 1450 BC (Drineas et al. 2019).
From 4000 to 3370 BC, is around the time when the Cyclades Islands were being settled. They formed stepping stones across the Aegean between Anatolia and the Greek mainland. The Cyclades Islands had been by-passed by early farmers (Manco 2015). Around 3500 to 3000 BC eastern Crete also received waves of new immigrants from the Anatolian coast through the Dodecanese Islands (Drineas et al. 2019). In about 3000 BC, bronze metallurgy came to Greece and its islands. [Bronze is an alloy of copper and up to 20% tin.] This was important, because to access tin, Greeks had to have been in contact with its sources in northern Europe and central Asia (Pomeroy et al. 2018).
Around 2200 BC, there seems to have been a period of considerable instability on mainland Greece and Crete. Then around 2100 BC, Crete began to recover and the first huge multiroom complex was completed around 2000 BC at Knossos and this was followed by smaller palaces and other settlements. Crete had become a land of small states. By around 2000 BC, the Minoans on Crete commenced trading with mainland Greece as well as the Cyclades Islands and their interaction influenced the development of the later Mycenaean Greek civilization. The building of the complex at Knossos (Figure 2) was begun around 1700 BC, after it and other early palaces had been destroyed. The population of Knossos, at its peak has been estimated to be 17,000 people (Pomeroy et al. 2018).
Then, sometime between 1600 and 1525 BC, came the catastrophic volcanic eruption on Thera (Santorini) (Jensen 2018) which buried the Minoan town of Akrotiri on Thera (Figure 3). Although massive tsunamis that struck the north of Crete (around 110 km south of Thera) and volcanic ash that fell on Crete caused widespread destruction, Knossos [which had a high enough elevation to withstand the tsunamis] continued to flourish long afterward (Fagan 2005).
Subsequent settlement occurred on Cyprus during 2400–1700 BC (Voskarides et al. 2016). In the Late Bronze Age [1600–1200 BC], ships visited Cyprus for copper ingots and crafted luxury items. The Cypriot-Aegean connection began with the Minoans and then with the Mycenaean Greeks. During the 12th century BC, large numbers of Mycenaeans found safety [after the demise of the Mycenaean city states] in Cyprus. Around 1050 BC, a number of new settlements in Cyprus appear that show continuities with the Late Bronze Age. Thus, for the mixed population of the island, there was no so called ‘Dark Age’ [in comparison to most of the Aegean basin] (Pomeroy et al. 2008, p. 63).
Figure 2: The Minoan palace at Knossos, Crete (author’s collection)
Figure 3: Part of the uncovered Minoan archaeological site at Akrotiri on Thera (Santorini) (2017, author’s collection)
3.3 The Mycenaean Civilization (1600–1200/1100 BC)
Around 2250 BC, settlements in southern and central Greece were destroyed. Many historians associate the destruction that followed during the Middle Bronze Age (2100–1600 BC) with the incursion of a new people [Mycenaeans, named after their main settlement of Mycenae in the Peloponnese], who spoke an early form of Greek. It is unknown when these first Greek speakers arrived and the route they took. They were part of a lengthy ancient migration of people whose language belonged to the Indo-European language family (Pomeroy et al. 2018, p. 23).
The Mycenaean civilization came to dominate most of mainland Greece and several islands, extending trade relations to other Bronze Age cultures. Mycenae, (not a capital city) was an impressive citadel built on a hill (Cartwright 2019).
These Proto-Greek speakers encountered non-Hellenic languages in Greece, one of which in particular was widespread. From western Anatolia across the Aegean Islands to mainland Greece, there are place-names ending in -(s)sos and -nthos, such as Telmessos, Knossos, Korinthos and Zakynthos, which are foreign to Greek. Greek borrowed a number of words with the same two endings. The origin of this unknown lost language with these place-name endings is unknown (Manco 2015, p. 172).
In the 15th century BC, the Mycenaeans founded settlements along the Anatolian west coast (Pomeroy et al. 2018). In the Late Bronze Age [1600–1200 BC], Minoans and even more so Mycenaean Greeks from the Greek mainland had made a strong showing in Miletos (on the west coast of Anatolia) (Cartledge 2011, p. 31). The Mycenaeans took control of Crete around 1450 BC with almost all the Minoan palaces being burned to the ground. Fortuitously, the palace at Knossos suffered little damage. Around 1375 BC, Mycenaean Crete became less important while Mycenae and the other Greek mainland centres prospered in the Aegean (Pomeroy et al. 2018).
Homer, [The Odyssey, book XIX] describes Crete as having 90 cities inhabited by several tribes. They included: the Mycenaeans, the Pelasgians, the pre-Hellenic population (according to Herodotus), the Eteocretans, the Kydonians and the Dorians (according to the Greek geographer and historian Strabo). Eteocretans and Kydonians were considered to be indigenous Cretans while the other tribes originated from mainland Greece (Strabo) (Drineas et al. 2019, p. 2).
From research on ancient human DNA, the Bronze Age Minoans and Mycenaeans were genetically similar, having at least three-quarters of their ancestry from the first farmers of western Anatolia and the Aegean and most of the remainder from ancient populations related to those of the Caucasus and Iran. However, the Mycenaeans differed from the Minoans in deriving additional ancestry from a source related to the hunter-gatherers of eastern Europe and Siberia, introduced via a central source related to the inhabitants of either the Eurasian steppe or Armenia (Lazaridis et al. 2017, p. 214).
It is unknown when the common ‘eastern’ ancestry of both Minoans and Mycenaeans arrived in the Aegean. With at least two migrations to the Aegean after the first farming dispersal and additional population change since that time, supports the view that the Greeks did not emerge fully formed from the depths of prehistory (Lazaridis et al. 2017, p. 218).
3.4 Collapse of Mycenaean Civilization
A little before 1200 BC, the Mycenaean civilization suffered a fatal blow. During the period of initial destruction, many settlements were either razed or abandoned and by the end of the 12th century BC, the Mycenaean kingdoms no longer existed. Yet, by about 1100 BC, some mainland Greek sites that had retained or gained some of their old vitality were beginning to empty out. Athens was one of the few centres that escaped destruction, but it had a reduced population. The thousands of people who abandoned their towns were dispersed, some to parts of the mainland such as eastern Attica, south-west and north-west Peloponnese. Others moved to the Cyclades Islands and the island of Kephalonia in the west while others migrated in great numbers to Cyprus. In Crete, many moved from the coast into the mountains (Pomeroy et al. 2018, p. 51).
It is unknown why the Mycenaean civilization disappeared after the destruction of the palaces. It was probably linked to catastrophes in the eastern Mediterranean at the time. Many causes have been proposed, including marauders—the Sea Peoples, migrating invaders, earthquakes or droughts, wars between kingdoms or even revolts of the Mycenaean peasants and slaves (Pomeroy et al. 2018). (Note 3.)
Small numbers of Athenian and Euboean Island traders resurrected the 2nd millennium BC settlements in Ionia, on the western coast of Anatolia. At around the same time, Aeolians—Greeks who lived in Thessaly (northern Greece) and spoke the Aeolic dialect—established settlements on the Mediterranean coast of north-west Anatolia (north of Ionia) where there had been a fairly significant Mycenaean presence in the Late Bronze Age (Pomeroy et al. 2018, pp. 61–62).
In the late 11th century BC, Greek smiths mastered the smelting and working of iron (Pomeroy et al. 2018). However, from the 11th to the 9th century BC there was something of a so-called Greek ‘Dark Age’—dark because during this period people were illiterate (except on Cyprus) and there were fewer settlements, with much smaller populations. There were isolated exceptions, such as Lefkandi on the island of Euboea. Mycenae, like Knossos, survived into the historical period (Cartledge 2011, pp. 20–21).
A newly evolved linguistic grouping of Greeks, the Dorians (who spoke the Doric dialect), claimed Argos, Sparta and Messene as their three main Peloponnesian centres. The Dorians also reached Crete (Cartledge 2011, p. 24). Perhaps around 900 BC, Dorians from the Peloponnesus, migrated to the southern region of coastal Anatolia, including the islands of Kos and Rhodes. Here too, it seems that small numbers of mostly non-Dorian traders settled before 900 BC (Pomeroy et al. 2018, p. 62).
Archaeologically, these Dorians are hard to identify. The very existence of any post-Mycenaean Dorian migration, let alone invasion, has been resolutely denied. The emergence of Doric as a full-blown dialect of historic Greek—as of Ionic—is a post-Bronze Age, Early Iron Age phenomenon. The simplest hypothesis is of a population movement of Proto-Doric speakers from north Greece (Cartledge 2011, p. 25).
4 Early Scripts
4.1 Hieroglyphic Script
Writing was first recorded in Greece on Crete and is taken as a sign of the progression of civilization. A hieroglyphic script—the oldest of the scripts found on Crete, dating chiefly to 2100–1700 BC—remains undeciphered. Three of the Cretan scripts, Hieroglyphic, Linear A and Linear B, have been found outside Crete and the date spans of their usage seem to overlap. The hieroglyphic script was found principally on Cretan seal stones (Figure 4). It is possible that the invention of Minoan hieroglyphs was stimulated by Egyptian hieroglyphs (Robinson 2009b).
It has been argued that the Cretan hieroglyphic script is simply a decorative version of Linear A (see below) but it remains unknown what language the hieroglyphic script conveys (Papakitsos and Kenanidis 2016–17).
4.2 The Phaistos Disc
The Phaistos disc discovered at Phaistos in southern Crete dates to 1850–1600 BC. It is about 16 cm in diameter and about 1.9 cm thick (Figure 5). On both sides of the disc are 242 characters that were impressed onto the original wet clay before it was fired. [It must have been an important document to be fired.] No other examples of the script have been discovered and this fact has hindered its decipherment. The language it records is also unknown. The characters are separated into sections by lines and seem to have been stamped from the outer edge and spiral inwards. Why should anyone have bothered to produce a stamp rather than inscribing each character afresh as in Linear A or B? (see below). Could it have been used to print many copies of the document? Some believe that the disc is a hoax, but this is a minority view (Robinson 2009a).
Figure 4: Cretan Hieroglyphs c. 1700 BC, Heraklion Museum Crete (author’s collection)
Figure 5: One side of the Phaistos disc (about 16 cm diameter), Heraklion Museum, Crete (author’s collection)
4.3 Linear A
Linear A belonged to the period 1750–1450 BC and is believed to have been the written language of the Minoans. We do not know what language that might have been, but it was not Greek. The decipherment of Linear A is disadvantaged by a lack of inscriptions. Of the ancient Anatolian languages, Lycian is the best candidate for the Linear A language (Robinson 2009a).
Linear A inscriptions have been discovered mainly in Crete (Figure 6), but they were also discovered around Aegean Islands such as Thera, Melos and Samothrace, at Troy and Miletos in Anatolia, in Italy and at Samsun on the Black Sea in northern Anatolia (Papakitsos and Kenanidis 2016–17).
Figure 6: Copy of a Linear A tablet (8 x 10.5 cm) (author’s collection)
4.4 Linear B
Linear B dates from around 1450 BC and is predominantly syllabic, with most of its signs representing the combination of consonant-plus-vowel (Figure 7). The script was inscribed on clay tablets and accidentally preserved by fire. It seems that the Mycenaeans borrowed the Cretan Linear A script for their own language of Proto-Greek. The Linear B script was first adapted to write Greek on Crete before it was used on the Greek mainland. But the precise relationship between the Linear A-using Cretan population and the inventors of Linear B, is uncertain. Linear B was not for general use and was used mainly for recording economic transactions. While this Proto-Greek script disappeared around 1200 BC, when Greek writing re-emerged in Greece in the 8th century BC, it was in the form of the Greek alphabet, unrelated to Linear B (Cartledge 2004, p. 37; Robinson 2009a, 2009b).
Renfrew (2010, p. L) suggests that the Proto-Greek language was being further developed within the borders of modern Greece before 3000 BC and into the Early Bronze Age [3000–2100 BC]. (See section 5.)
Figure 7: The sign list of Linear B script (Robinson 2009b, p. 88)
4.5 Arcado-Cypriot Greek Dialect
The writing tradition of the Bronze Age Aegean was carried eastwards. In the 16th or early 15 century BC, writing appeared on Cyprus labelled as ‘Cypro-Minoan’. It is likely that it was adapted from Linear A, although difficult to confirm because the repertoire of signs appears to have undergone some changes in the new script’s creation. It is difficult to tell whether only one or multiple writing systems existed on Cyprus during the Late Bronze Age [Greek Late Bronze Age 1600–1200 BC] (Steele 2017, p. 4).
In the Iron Age [1200–c. 750 BC], Greeks and Phoenicians [from the Mediterranean coast of modern day Lebanon, Syria and Israel] settled in Cyprus. Their languages became the main languages of Cyprus, while the former ‘Cypriot’ language slowly lost usage (or was possibly lost). Their script was lost. The Phoenicians arrived with their own script. The Greeks, however, had arrived on Cyprus without a writing script (having abandoned Linear B). Once there, they started to adapt the native Cypro-Minoan syllabary (CM). The use of the former CM system eventually vanished, the new adapted Cypro-Greek syllabary replacing it. This happened during the first period of the Iron Age (Egetmeyer 2017, p. 180).
5. The Greek Alphabet
It is unknown exactly how and when the Greek alphabet appeared in Greece, centuries after the disappearance of Linear B around 1200 BC (Robinson 2009b).
The Greeks living in Phoenicia [on the Mediterranean coast of modern day Lebanon, Syria and Israel] borrowed the Phoenician alphabet from, where it spread to Greece. The 22 Phoenician consonants were adopted as Greek consonants and vowels and a few new letters were added, which varied from place to place in Greece, creating several varieties of Greek alphabet. Although the introduction of vowels appears to be a major innovation, it seems to have occurred because the Greek adapter of the Phoenician dialect could find no other way of transferring a particular Phoenician consonant into Greek. The earliest ‘known’ mainland Greek alphabetic inscription dates from around 730 BC. The alphabetic signs of classical Greece, which are still in use in Greece, are known as the Ionian alphabet. They did not become compulsory in Athenian documents until 403–402 BC (Robinson 2009b, pp. 103–6).
We do not know exactly when and where the main Greek dialect-groups were formed, nor precisely what relationship the dialect-differentiation bore to the other ways in which the many small and scattered Greek communities identified themselves culturally. Dorians and Ionians were united culturally by far more than anything that may have divided them. Doric-speaking Spartans and Ionic-speaking Athenians were able to understand each other. Greeks were Greeks whether they spoke Aeolic, Arcado-Cypriot, Doric or Ionic (Cartledge 2004, p. 40).
What can we say with confidence about the people who lived in what we know today as Greece and Cyprus before 800 BC? There are gaps in our knowledge. From at least 500,000 years ago, hominins roamed throughout mainland Greece. Homo sapiens arrived 40,000 years ago.
Farming commenced on Cyprus by at least 8600 BC from the Levant. They were Europe’s first farmers. Farmers arrived in Crete from around 7000 BC and then on the Greek mainland up to 500 years later from Anatolia.
The Minoans on Crete established the first Mediterranean civilization from at least 2000 to 1450 BC—when subdued by the Mycenaeans—and used several writing scripts [unrelated to Greek] and did not speak Greek. The first people who spoke Proto-Greek were the Mycenaeans who settled mainland Greece before 1600 BC (with Proto-Greek possibly being developed on the Greek mainland 3000–2100 BC or earlier). The Mycenaeans adapted the Minoan Linear A script on Crete to develop Linear B by 1450 BC, the first Greek script which they also used on the Greek mainland.
Where did these Mycenaeans come from? We don’t know exactly. The Minoans and the Mycenaeans had at least three quarters of their ancestry from the first Neolithic farmers of western Anatolia and the Aegean and most of the remainder from ancient populations related to those of the Caucasus and Iran. However, the Mycenaeans differed from Minoans in deriving additional ancestry from an ultimate source related to the hunter-gatherers of eastern Europe and Siberia (Lazaridis et al. 2017). The Mycenaean civilization collapsed around 1200/1100 BC (with the loss of Linear B). At the same time, other nearby civilizations (like the Hittites) suffered a similar fate. Why did these civilizations end? Once again, we don’t know. It would have needed several factors to bring such a cataclysm.
The Greek alphabet, as we know it today, was developed by ‘at least’ 730 BC having been adapted from the Phoenician alphabet. The embryo of the Greek language was somewhere in the Indo-European language heartland, but was developed on the Greek mainland.
It appears, for example, that the country now called Hellas had no settled population in ancient times; instead there was a series of migrations, as the various tribes, being under the constant pressure of invaders who were stronger than they were, were always prepared to abandon their own territory. … Where the soil was most fertile there were the most frequent changes of population, as in what is now called Thessaly, in Boeotia, in most of the Peloponnese (except Arcadia), and in others of the richest parts of Hellas. …
Another point which seems to me good evidence for the weakness of the early inhabitants of the country is this: we have no record of any action taken by Hellas as a whole before the Trojan War. Indeed, my view is that at this time the whole country was not even called ‘Hellas’. Before the time of Hellen, the son of Deucalion, the name did not exist at all, and different parts were known by the names of different tribes, with the name ‘Pelasgian’ predominating. After Hellen and his sons had grown powerful in Phthiotis and had been invited as allies into other states, these states separately and because of their connections with the family of Hellen began to be called ‘Hellenic’ (Thucydides book 1, chapters 2 & 3).
Note 2: Homeland of the Indo-European languages
… the most likely location of the population that first spoke an Indo-European language was south of the Caucasus Mountains, perhaps in present-day Iran or Armenia, because ancient DNA from people who lived there matches what we would expect for a source population both for the Yamnaya [people from the Ukrainian/Russian steppe] and for ancient Anatolians. If this scenario is right, the population sent one branch up into the steppe—mixing with steppe hunter-gatherers in a one-to-one ratio to become the Yamnaya—and another to Anatolia to found the ancestors of people there who spoke languages such as Hittite (Reich 2018, p. 120).
In short, the most general lesson from ancient DNA data is that it does not offer full support to either of the main hypotheses, [for the source of the Indo-European language, i.e. in Anatolia or on the Ukrainian/Russian steppe] in the simplest and most straightforward terms in which they are often presented. If a definitive answer to the Indo-European question has eluded us for so long, it may be precisely because the reality was more complex than either ‘clean’ hypothesis, neither of which is uniquely right (Heggarty 2018, p. 157).
Note 3: Mycenaean collapse in context
In the decades around 1200 BC, the eastern Mediterranean region was overwhelmed by turmoil. The Hittite empire fell apart and many towns in Anatolia and Syria were destroyed. The invaders were apparently nomadic tribes from north and east of Anatolia. Bands of marauders also came from all over the Mediterranean; Egyptian inscriptions call them ‘(men from) the northern lands’ and ‘(peoples of) the countries of the sea’. Led by Libyans, these ‘Sea Peoples’ first attacked Egypt in 1208 BC and three more times later in the early 12th century BC. The Egyptians survived, though at great cost. It is commonly believed that Mycenaean Greeks were numbered among the ‘Sea Peoples’ (Pomeroy et al. 2018, pp. 51–52).
I am indebted to Michael Bennett and Russell McCaskie for their expert editing of this article. All errors are my responsibility.
Anthony, D and Ringe, D 2015, ‘The Indo-European homeland and linguistic and archaeological perspectives’, Annual Review of Linguistics, vol. 1, pp. 199–219.
Bellwood, P 2013, First migrants: ancient migration in global perspective, Wiley Blackwell, Chichester, UK.
Cartledge, P 2011, Ancient Greece: a very short introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Cartwright, M 2019, ‘Mycenaean civilization’, Ancient history encyclopedia, at: <www.ancient.eu/Mycenaean_Civilization/> updated 2 October 2019.
Douka, K Efstratiou, N Hald, MM Henriksen, PS & Karetsou, A 2017, ‘Dating Knossos and the arrival of the earliest Neolithic in the southern Aegean’, Antiquity, vol. 91, issue 356, pp. 304–21.
Drineas, P Tsetsos, F Plantinga, A Lazaridis, I Yannaki, E Razou, A Kanaki, K Michalodimitrakis, M Perez-Jimenez, F De Silvestro, G Renda, MC Stamatoyannopoulos, JA Kidd, KK Browning, BL Paschou, P & Stamatoyannopoulos, G 2019, ‘Genetic history of the population of Crete’, Annals of Human Genetics, pp. 1–16.
Egetmeyer, M 2017, ‘Script and language on Cyprus during the Geometric period: an overview on the occasion of two new inscriptions’, in PM Steele (ed.) 2017, pp. 180–201.
Fagan, BM 2005, World prehistory: a brief introduction (sixth edition), Pearson Prentice Hall, New Jersey.
Harvati, K Röding, C Bosman, AM Karakostis, FA Grün, R Stringer, C Karkanas, P Thompson, NC Koutoulidis, V Moulopoulos, LA Gorgoulis, VG & Kouloukoussa, M 2019, ‘Apidima Cave fossils provide earliest evidence of Homo sapiens in Eurasia’, Nature, vol. 571, pp. 500–4.
Heggarty, P 2018, ‘Indo-European and ancient DNA revolution’, in Talking Neolithic: Proceedings of the workshop on Indo-European origins, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, 2–3 December 2013, pp. 120–73.
Homer, The Odyssey, translated by W Shewring, 1980, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Jensen, MN 2018, ‘Dating the ancient Minoan eruption of Thera using tree rings’, University of Arizona News, 15 August 2018 at: <https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/dating-ancient-minoan-eruption-thera-using-tree-rings>.
Lazaridis, I Nadel, D Rollefson, G Merrett, DC Rohland, N Mallick, S Fernandes, D Novak, M Gamarra, B Sirak, K Connell, S Stewardson, K Harney, E Fu, Q Gonzalez-Fortes, G Jones, ER Roodenberg, SA Lengyel, G Bocquentin, F Gasparian, B Monge, JM Gregg, M Eshed, V Mizrahi, AS Meiklejohn, C Gerritsen, F Bejenaru, L Blüher, M Campbell, A Cavalleri, G Comas, D Froguel, P Gilbert, E Kerr, SM Kovacs, P Krause, J McGettigan, D Merrigan, M Merriwether, DA O’Reilly, S Richards, MB Semino, O Shamoon-Pour, M Stefanescu, G Stumvoll, M Tönjes, A Torroni, A Wilson, JF Yengo, L Hovhannisyan, NA Patterson, N Pinhasi, R & Reich, D 2016, ‘Genomic insights into the origin of farming in the ancient near east’, Nature, vol. 536, pp. 419–24.
Lazaridis, I Mittnik, A Patterson, N Mallick, S Rohland, N Pfrengle, S Furtwängler, A Peltzer, A, Posth, C, Vasilakis, A McGeorge, PJP Konsolaki-Yannopoulou, E Korres, G Martlew, H Michalodimitrakis, M Özsait, M Özsait, N Papathanasiou, A Richards, M Roodenberg, SA Tzedakis, Y Arnott, R Fernandes, DM Hughey, JR Lotakis, DM Navas, PA Maniatis, Y Stamatoyannopoulos, JA Stewardson, K Stockhammer, P Pinhasi, R Reich, D Krause, J & Stamatoyannopoulos, G 2017, ‘Genetic origins of the Minoans and Mycenaeans’, Nature, vol. 548, pp. 214–18.
Lazaridis, I 2018, ‘The evolutionary history of human populations in Europe’, Current Opinion in Genetics & Development, vol. 53, pp. 21–27.
Manco, J 2015, Ancestral journeys: the peopling of Europe from the first venturers to the Vikings, (Revised and updated edition), Thames & Hudson, London.
Papakitsos, EC and Kenanidis, IK 2016–17, ‘Cretan hieroglyphics: the ornamental and ritual version of the Cretan Protolinear script’, Anistoriton Journal, vol. 15, pp. 1–12.
Perlès, C 2001, The early Neolithic in Greece: the first farming communities in Europe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Pomeroy, SB Burstein, SM Donlan, W Roberts, JT Tandy, D & Tsouvala, G 2018, Ancient Greece: a political, social, and cultural history, (fourth edition) Oxford University Press, New York.
Reich, D 2018, Who we are and how we got here, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Renfrew, C 2010, ‘Introduction’, in The emergence of civilisation: the Cyclades and the Aegean in the third millennium BC, 1972, reprinted 2011, Oxbow Books, Oxford, pp. XXvii–Li.
Robinson, A 2009a, Lost languages: the enigma of the world’s undeciphered scripts, Tess Press, New York.
Robinson, A 2009b, Writing and Script: a very short introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Strasser, TF Runnels, C Wegmann, K Panagopoulou, E McCoy, F Digregorio, C Karkanas P & Thompson, N 2011, ‘Dating Palaeolithic sites in southwestern Crete, Greece’, Journal of Quaternary Science, vol. 26, issue 5, pp. 553–60.
Steele, PM 2017, ‘Introduction: the Aegean writing systems’, in PM Steele (ed.) 2017, pp. 1–6.
Steele, PM (ed.) 2017, Understanding relations between scripts: the Aegean writing systems, Oxbow Books, Oxford.
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, translated in 1954 by R Warner, Penguin Books, 1974, Middlesex, England.
Tourloukis, V 2016, ‘On the spatio-temporal distribution of Mediterranean Lower Paleolithic sites: a geoarchaeological perspective’, in K Harvati and M Roksandic (eds) 2016, Paleoanthropology of the Balkans and Anatolia: human evolution and its context, Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp. 303–23.
Tourloukis, V and Harvati, K 2017, ‘The Palaeolithic record of Greece: a synthesis of the evidence and a research agenda for the future’, Quaternary International, pp. 1–18, <http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2017.04.020>.
Vigne, JD Briois, F Zazzo, A Willcox, G Cucchi, T, Thiébault, S Carrère, I Franel, Y Touquet, R Martin, C Moreau, C Comby, C & Guilaine, J 2012, ‘First wave of cultivators spread to Cyprus at least 10,600 y ago’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 109, no. 22, pp. 8445–49.
Voskarides, K Mazières, S Hadjipanagi1, D Cristofaro, JD Ignatiou, A Stefanou, C King, RJ Underhill, PA Chiaroni, J & Deltas, C 2016, ‘Y-chromosome phylogeographic analysis of the Greek-Cypriot population reveals elements consistent with Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements’ Investigative Genetics, vol. 1 , issue 1, pp. 1–14.
Willcox, G 2013, ‘The roots of cultivation in southwestern Asia’, Science, vol. 341, pp. 39–40.