Who Were the Minoans?

Minoan civilization confirmed European by recent DNA study

This Bible History Daily article was originally published in May 2013. It has been updated.—Ed.

Who were the Minoans? The Minoan civilization is remembered for its ornate frescoes, including this Prince of the Lillies from the palace at Knossos.

Crete’s Minoan civilization has long been considered Europe’s first great Bronze Age society. The floruit of the Minoan civilization, which spread across Crete in the third millennium B.C.E., occurred in the 18th–16th centuries B.C.E., in the late Middle Bronze Age and the start of the Late Bronze Age. The island is dotted with magnificent palaces, including labyrinthine Knossos, Phaistos and Mallia, and Minoan art and traditions have captivated and influenced the Mediterranean world for thousands of years.

Who were the Minoans? Despite their celebrated legacy, the Minoan civilization remains shrouded in mystery. We do not know what language was spoken on Crete, and the scripts of the early Minoan civilization—Cretan Hieroglyphs and Linear A—have eluded translation attempts for over a century. Despite extensive archaeological research exploring the history of Crete, the Minoan civilization has always kept close ties to the world of mythology. Sir Arthur Evans, the first person to carry out extensive excavations in Crete, named the society after the mythological king Minos. Crete’s Minoan landscape serves as the setting for countless legends, including the birthplace of Zeus, the labyrinth where Theseus killed the Minotaur and the prison that Deadalus and Icarus fled with their ill-fated wings.

But who were the Minoans? Who were the people that left us with such grand mysteries and ornate palaces?

Sir Arthur Evans claimed that the ancestors of the Minoan civilization came from North Africa, but more recent scholars have suggested dozens of additional forefathers for the Minoan population. On May 14, 2013, Nature Communications published the study “A European population in Minoan Bronze Age Crete,” analyzing mitochondrial DNA from Minoan osseous tissue found in caves at the Cretan Lassithi plateau. It suggests that the Minoan civilization was comprised of local Europeans rather than outsiders. The Greek and American research team writes that “Our data are compatible with the hypothesis of an autochthonous development of the Minoan civilization by the descendants of the Neolithic settlers of the island” and that “shared haplotypes, principal component and pairwise distance analyses refute the Evans North African hypothesis.”

The free eBook Island Jewels: Understanding Ancient Cyprus and Crete takes you on a journey to two stunning, history-laden islands in the Mediterranean. Visit several key historical places on both islands and discover many of the great objects that have been unearthed there by archaeologists.

Who were the Minoans? Knossos’s Ladies in Blue are genetically related to modern Europeans, according to a recent DNA study. Archaeological Museum of Iraklion.

The researchers examined over 100 bone samples from the third and second millennia B.C.E. and found a combination of distinctly European and uniquely Minoan characteristics—with no trace of African descent. The DNA samples are consistent with that of Neolithic, Bronze Age and modern European populations, especially Crete’s modern population. The Minoan people may be related to groups that migrated from Anatolia millennia earlier; if true, this would allow researchers to use cues from known Indo-European languages to help decipher the still-unknown language of the Minoan civilization.

While mysteries about the seafaring Minoan civilization remain, we are one step closer to answering the question: Who were the Minoans? As University of Washington geneticist George Stamatoyannopoulos says, “We now know that the founders of the first advanced European civilization were European.”

Read “A European population in Minoan Bronze Age Crete” in Nature Communications.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri
Minoan-style frescoes have been found at Tel Kabri, a Middle Bronze Age palatial site in Israel.

Phaistos Disk Deciphered? Not Likely, Say Scholars
Has the Phaistos Disk, a 3,700-year-old fired clay disk stamped with hundreds of symbols found at Phaistos on Minoan Crete, finally been deciphered? Aegean Bronze Age script experts weigh in on a recent decipherment claim.

Bronze Age Collapse: Pollen Study Highlights Late Bronze Age Drought
During the Late Bronze Age, the Eastern Mediterranean boasted a flourishing network of grand empires sustaining sophisticated infrastructures that collapsed suddenly and in tandem. What caused the Bronze Age collapse?

Early Bronze Age: Megiddo’s Great Temple and the Birth of Urban Culture in the Levant
The Early Bronze Age Great Temple at Megiddo is “the most monumental single edifice so far uncovered in the EB I Levant and ranks among the largest structures of its time in the Near East.” Discover what the temple and Megiddo teach us about the birth of cities in the Levant.

What Does the Aegean World Have to Do with the Biblical World?
Aegean archaeology specialist Louise Hitchcock explores the importance of the Aegean world in Biblical archaeology.


Read more about Minoan civilization in the BAS Library:

James D. Muhly, “The Minoans of Crete: Europe’s Oldest Civilization: Excavating Minoan Sites,” Archaeology Odyssey, March/April 2004.

“Past Perfect: In Pursuit of Minoan Crete,” Archaeology Odyssey, January/February 2005.

Barry Unsworth, “The Minoans of Crete: Europe’s Oldest Civilization: Imagining the Minoans,” Archaeology Odyssey, March/April 2004.

“Ancient Life: Bull Jumping,” Archaeology Odyssey, January/February 2000.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.


28 Responses

  1. Steve says:

    The island of the Bronz age was know as Kouriti. It was named after the Kourites who were the Titans that guarded and protected baby Zeus in Greek mythology. In the hills of this ancient island the locals still call themselves Kourites. They still perform an ancient war dance performed by the mythological Kourites called Pentozali.

  2. Abraham Joseph says:

    Minos historians agree that he was a king. Sir Arthur Evans is the first person to carry out extensive excavations in Crete, named the society after the mythological king Minos. The nearest word to Minoan is not settled. Here is a suggestion that shall be included as connected to Minoan. The word ‘mannavan’ in the Tamil language means a king even at the present times. When Linear A is deciphered this word ‘mannavan’ may be found.

  3. Afurah says:

    Hahaha Its not a mystery
    The Minoans Ancient Greece

    Archaeologist Manfred Bietak conducted extensive research on ancient Greek civilizations and their connections to ancient Egypt. Bietak unearthed evidence from artwork as early as 7000 B.C. that depicts the early people inhabiting Greece were of African descent.

    The Minoan culture of Ancient Greece reached its peak at about 1600 B.C. They were known for their vibrant cities, opulent palaces and established trade connections. Minoan artwork is recognized as a major era of visual achievement in art history. Pottery, sculptures and frescoes from the Minoan Bronze age grace museum displays all over the world. Palace ruins indicate remnants of paved roads and piped water systems.

  4. Kimberly says:

    It is my understanding through research that the Celtic peoples began in the Middle East and trekked westward over the Caucasus Mountains and eventually landed in the British Isles. We can see ancient Celtic settlements being discovered from the Middle East to the Caucasus through Germany, now the discovery in France, and other discoveries in Spain.

    I also read that the Philistines were descended from the Minoans. When the volcano on Thera erupted, it sent peoples fleeing in ships the shores of the eastern Mediteranean regions. The 100ft tsunami that was created by the eruption devasted coastal cities as well the islands. There was a 400 year Greek dark age as a result. The Eyptians have heiroglyphs depicting the island peoples fleeing in ships due to some catastrophic event. I believe Plato’s Atlantis could is about the destruction of the Minoan civilization.

  5. Peter Hagyo-Kovacs says:

    The link to Anatolia is worth verifying with ancient DNA studies and also to test the hypothesis of a connection between the Minoan civilization and the Philistine settlement in Canaan, but I’m not sure any ancient Philistine DNA is available for study. What could be tested is a comparison of Minoan DNA to that of the mummies of the Pharaohs.

  6. Raimo Kangasniemi says:

    The problem with the Minoans = Europeans claim is (beyond the question how ‘European’ the current Europeans actually are – based on genetics studies we can easily claim that they are more Middle Eastern and Central Asian than ‘European’) although they were a geographically European population, they were probably linguistically connected to Asia Minor, to extinct Indo-European languages current Turkey and culturally were influenced more by Middle Eastern than any European culture existing at the same time as themselves, which were all culturally inferior to Minoans. Lastly, there might not have been any one Minoan culture with a solid unified identity and political system, but culturally and linguistically closely related city states with various degrees of connections to different parts of the Aegean and the wider Mediterranean world.

  7. mickeymouse says:

    Nefertiti was Minoan.The Minoans influenced Egypt,not the other way around.the Minoans taught superior ship building to the Egyptians.That was what the Minoans were exceptional at.They were the trading hub of the ancient world.They traded with everyone and ruled the seas.They were expert Mariners.

  8. – Phaistos Disk Deciphered? Not Likely, Say Scholars says:

    […] Learn about the magnificent Minoan civilization in “Who Were the Minoans?” and “Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri” in Bible History Daily. […]

  9. jane says:

    the least helpful and most boring article ever!

  10. Dennis A. Dispenza says:

    I remember an earlier lifetime living on Minoan Crete several millennia ago, I lived in a row house on a paved street in a suburb of one of the Minoan cities. The people and scenery, buildings and other details were as you see in archaeological text illustrations. I lived in a number of classical civilizations, and some times have vivid dreams, highly detailed of these earlier civilizations. One of them was as a Jew in Babylon millennia ago during the time of King Nebuchadnezzer . In the latter, I could remember meetings of people to discuss the situation we had at that time. This seems as if it would be helpful, reincarnation study in retrieving details of earlier civilizations.

  11. DiA says:

    Phaistos Disk, according to DiA, was created in Anatolia 1753 BC. The disc is dedicated to the Mother Goddes, as well as associated with the cult of Amun of Thebes, Egypt. The inscription reads in both directions in verse. Language lexically similar to Sanskrit and Latin, structural – to Polynesian languages. Reading the text from the center is a calendar. Two sides – two seasons (spring/summer and autumn), a three-season ancient year. Back direction – is a message. – , .

  12. Joost Blasweiler says:

    I wonder if this conclusion is right. In that time period there was not a clear diference between Europe, Africa and Asia. Their (cultural) borders were not drawn so absolute as today. So with modern terms we are analyzing a very old culture. In that time period there was no coherent European culture. So in my opnion the conclusion does not say much about the Minoan culture itself. At least it explains almost nothing about their culture and life.

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    Who Were the Minoans? Minoan civilization confirmed European by recent DNA study – Biblical Archaeology Society

  14. Larrie Veith says:

    Since the the North Black Sea area that is now modern Ukraine has been commonly accepted as the home of autochthonous people from which Indo-European language and culture spread, has a possible connection been postulated between glyphs and hieroglyphs found there (and also not deciphered) and Minoan hieroglyphs and linear A on Crete? I know there are differences of opinion about whether the Trypillion culture came from or paralleled the Neo-Lithic, but it is generally agreed to be the most ancient European culture. IE; first domesticated horse,5,700 years; oldest commercial mathematical accounting records found in identical form from Algeria and Macedonia to Hungary, Ukraine, Bulgaria; oldest cultivating of wheat; complex grammar and structure of language that predates Sumerian, etc.

  15. Andrew says:

    Looking at European languages in Asia Minor is probably fruitless. The first scantily attested languages of the eastern Mediterranean are the Afro-asiatic languages of the first farmers, and even that probably spread with farming culture rather than population change. Note that true Caucasians have a different language family and genotypes than other Europeans. Modern European and indo-Iranian languages and culture spread from the Ukrainian and Central Asian steppes on the backs of horses, wagons and chariots, as the earlier Afro-Asiatic farming culture collapsed (climate change brought on by deforestation and drought contributed), but this process mirrored the anglicisation of Eastern Britain, as local leaders such as Pybba and Cerdic (Caradoc) exchanged the failing roman model for a Saxon culture they saw as a better fit to impose control over the anarchy of the time. While Indo-European and Saxon warriors were certainly recruited by local leaders, and occasionally took over (as gothic, vandal and Frankish generals took control of the Roman Empire which employed them), the foreign culture was largely adopted by local leaders to attract and retain both these troops and local men who wanted the same opportunities.

  16. Andrew says:

    Next I’ll read someone saying Iroquois long-houses are derived from Pre-historic Norse settlers, or that the British are descended from Trojans via Rome. Good grief. Unless there us a deliberate policy of genocide or exile (Assyria, 19th C USA, post WWII Europe) local people people tend to stay put even as culture and elites change. Even invading elites rarely completely expel their predecessors in ruling positions – either the local families identify with the new paradigm (we’re all Romans/Saxons/Arabs etc. now) in order to enhance their prestige/security, or the new elite positions itself as the natural successors of the old to consolidate and legitimise their rule (the Franks, Goths, Lombards etc. in Italy, France, Spain and North Africa, the Ptolemies in Egypt, the gothic commanders in the roman army who stayed and took control of southern wales after the roman withdrawal). Cultures change with no change in the local elite – the makedonians became Greek, and the Baltic Prussians became German as a matter of strategic policy, not because of any change in population at any level of society.

  17. Early Bronze Age: Megiddo’s Great Temple and the Birth of Urban Culture in the Levant says:

    […] the Bronze Age in BHD, from the Minoans in Crete to the Hittites in Turkey, and learn more about the cataclysmic international Late Bronze Age […]

  18. Conclive Henry says:

    It is a very broad jump to suggest that a culture termed Minoan originated Europe.

    Also suggested is that the culture termed Minoan originated in South America via Africa and subsequently migrated to North America as well as what could be termed southern Europe.

    As has happened so often in the past, specifically British scholars have sought to “classify and divide” from a Euro-centric perspective that serves the interest of the British Monarchy and oligarchs of Europe and not necessarily the ‘truth.’

  19. spyridonk says:

    There was certainly a stong bond between the peoples of the near east and minoans but as the dna research shows and also archeological evidence the minoans were part of the indigenous mix of people who occupied greece for centuries before the arrival of the “modern greeks” . Their genetical profile has little to do with the phoinicians who are semitic. the aegean sea had remarcable civilazation and it was a home to a culture that was frourishing. The minoans gained a great advandage from their proximity to near east and especialy egypt and they were greatly influenced especialy by egypt but that doesn t give a reason to wonder about who they were. they were people who were indigenous and , of course, after the “modern greeks ” came they just mixed with them. that s the reason we see the continouity in the genetic profile between them and the modern cretans. their languange is the true mystery.

  20. White Indians says:

    Minoans = Archaic Greeks = Indo-Europeans = White Indians = Brahmins = Sumerians.

    Caucasin race lost their ancient histories/ cultures after the Great Flood (look at how many high mountains are in Europe compare to Asia) afterall 😉


    The Phoenician’s merged with the existing population of Crete and became the Minoans.
    After the eruption of Thera and the invasion of the Mycenae, they returned to Phoenicia.
    The Sea People were Anatolians that the Phoenician’s had traded and befriended and thats why their cities were left alone as they swept south and destroyed everything in their path around 1200 BC. Some of them settled and became the Phillistines.
    The Minoans traded everything, their cities were city states that were all part of their Sea Trading Empire. They setup Trading Palaces all over the Eastern Mediterranean.
    Rulers who respected their services allowed them to build Trading Houses in their cities because they would then have a supplier like Costco and Hermes of Paris rolled into one.
    That is why Minoan frescoes have also been discovered in Egypt (Tell el-Dab’s), Turkey (Alalakh) and Syria (Qatna) which suggests an expansion of the Empire of the Minoan Civilization in the countries around the Mediterranean.

    Take a look at this link :

    Read Phoenician Secrets by Sanford Holst

    Read Phoenician Secrets by Sanford Holst

  22. bob nut says:


  23. Allan Rchardson says:

    How do we know that the ruling families of the Hyksos interbred with the Egyptians? The Ptolemaic dynasty never did; a couple even got the nickname Philadelphos, meaning “sister loving”, because they only married within their own clan. By the way, sorry to burst the bubbles of contemporary African-Americans, but Cleopatra was definitely 100 percent Greek; the genealogies prove it. Her son Caesarion, of course, was half Greek and half Roman. The confusion is caused by the fact that the Ptolemaic rulers adopted some Egyptian cultural and clothing customs, including worship of Egyptian gods, in order to make the general population see them as valid successors of the Pharaohs. It turns out that Hollywood DID get some things right, such as the Ptolemaic practice of the rituals of the natives and the skin color of the last queen of Egypt, played by Liz Taylor.

  24. Robert Sockett says:

    How does this effect Rohl’s Hykos hypothesis. Hard to see his Hykos remaining 100% pure European after 200 years ruling Egypt and interbreeding with the Egyptians.

  25. Dallas says:

    The relationship of the Philistine to the Minoans (and Cypriots and Sicilians) should be checked.

    The Hyksos are unlikely to be European, but rather Semitic and closely related to either west or south Semitic peoples.

  26. W. Ron says:

    Re: Tim’s excellent suggestion, I don’t see the Hyksos as good candidates for Philistine forebears, or “Sea Peoples.” But why stop at DNA samples of the Philistines? Try also the Phoenicians (the classical Greeks claimed they were the builders of the ruined sites we regard as Minoan), the Phrygians, Hittites, and other Anatolians who might have been related to the forebears of the original Minoans.

  27. Tim Upham says:

    But were they able to take DNA samples of the Hyksos and the Phillistines, to see if the Sea Peoples were descendants of the Minoans? Because one claim, is that the Minoans fled Crete, because a massive volcanic eruption caused tidal waves to hit the island.

  28. Scott I says:

    Well, this is delightful news. Allow me to confirm the language thing. Paul Pezron was a brilliant monk and historian. He has history few ever passed down so that it is not even known beyond Pezron. Crete was named after Cres, for who the name of his descendants were Curetes or if you prefer, Cretes by taking the u out. Rome knew them as Quirites. Cres was of the family of the Titans, legendary spawners of the first overwhelming empire beyond memory, maybe 2000 BC. They are responsible for much of the myths of Greece, like the gods Acmon, Uranus, Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, Mercury, etc. They were among the 1st to settle Greece, Crete, Italy, and Spain and they raised “hell” in the Mid east, too, and settled some in Phyrigia and around there.

    Paul Pezron’s book, The Antiquity of Nations, available in print at amazon, has all this a far more. Many language explanations and small dictionaries, too. The Titans were “Celtick” tribes, yes of the north. I suspect Germanic tribes were mixed in as well.

    I have the 1st 13 chapters of his book transcribed at
    I am slowly adding more chapters. You can view these for now or get the book. this history is mind blowing. Our language of USA English has a surprising number of ancient Celtic words in it as does some Greek and Latin. Not to be missed.

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