Bronze Age Greeks preferred to marry cousins

(ORDO NEWS) — An analysis of ancient DNA showed that the Achaeans and Cretans chose local women, and men from the East provided the influx of new genes to their societies.

An international team of scientists led by Eirini Skourtanioti from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Germany) analyzed more than a hundred genomes of people who lived in mainland Greece and on the islands of the Aegean Sea from the Neolithic to the Iron Age.

The Aegean islands (primarily Crete) and mainland Greece are a region of great importance for understanding the changes that took place during the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age in both Europe and the Middle East.

Already in the seventh millennium BC, the first agricultural communities appeared there, the earliest evidence of which was found in Crete.

Bronze Age Greeks preferred to marry cousins 2
The map shows the locations where materials for DNA analysis were obtained from

In the early Bronze Age (3100-2000 BC), the first civilizations with complex architecture, metallurgy, sacred activities, and active trade exchange with other Bronze Age societies of the Eastern Mediterranean had already developed around the Aegean.

But although we know a lot about these civilizations, we practically do not know how the relationship between them, as well as with their neighbors, influenced the genetic diversity of the population of the Aegean region.

The new work presents 102 samples of ancient DNA. Some of them were obtained from the remains of people who lived in Crete, some from the bones of the inhabitants of mainland Hellas.

After analyzing them, the researchers found that the early agriculturalists from Crete had basically the same origin as the rest of the contemporary Aegeans.

Only six people showed signs of Anatolian origin, that is, they arrived in the region from Asia Minor.

The authors of the work suggest that around the 7th millennium BC, a small group of early Anatolian farmers came to Crete, but there was no constant flow of genes.

Therefore, the Anatolian roots were preserved only among a small part of the population of the island and were not transferred to the mainland.

At the end of the Neolithic and in the subsequent Early Bronze Age, the picture changes dramatically. DNA analysis shows that people from the East came to the Aegean region – mainly from the Caucasus and the territory of modern Iran.

In the late Bronze Age, new changes take place: the genomes of the Aegeans become close to the genomes of the inhabitants of Central and Eastern Europe.

In addition to clarifying the migration routes of the Neolithic and Bronze Age populations, DNA analysis of the inhabitants of the Aegean region gave another, completely unexpected result.

It turned out that in Crete, other Greek islands, as well as on the mainland four thousand years ago, it was often customary to marry your cousin.

To date, more than a thousand ancient genomes from different regions of the world have been published, but, according to the authors of the work, such a strict system of consanguineous marriages did not exist anywhere else in the ancient world: “This came as a complete surprise and raises many questions.”

Bronze Age Greeks preferred to marry cousins 3
The Minoan Serpent Goddess is sometimes identified with the supreme deity of fertility, the Mother Goddess. At the same time, marriage customs in Crete are somewhat surprising

How to explain such a special marriage rule, the research team can only speculate. As the main reasons, scientists name various social, economic and environmental factors.

For example, geographic isolation, endemic pathogenic stress, the desire to preserve the integrity of inherited lands, and so on.

The combination of several such factors with specific subsistence needs (for example, olive cultivation, forcing people to live in one place for a long time) could form this practice in the Aegean region.

At the same time, scientists do not believe that the small population of the region can somehow be associated with the customs of incest.

The authors believe that population growth was limited by other factors, and the question of the influence of closely related marriages on ancient local civilizations requires further study.

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