Moni Odigitria


Overarching period: Bronze Age, 5,200 - 2,500 BP
Specific period: Minoan Age, 4,700 - 3,100 BP
Carbon dating: 3.700 - 4,000 years old
Locations:
Moni Odigitria - 35.05° North, 24.81° East
Site location country: Greece
mtDNA haplogroups: J, I, H, U, K
Y haplogroups: G2

A Minoan bee ornament A Minoan bee ornament [9] Phaistos Palace The remains of the Phaistos Palace [12]

The Minoan Culture:

The Minoan Culture was a Bronze Age civilization on the island of Crete and surrounding islands [6]. It is believed to have been the first advanced civilization of Europe, established in the Early Bronze Age [7].

It was once believed that the Minoan peoples were descended from populations from North Africa, because of their similar tombs. However, DNA analysis has revealed that they were actually closely related to Neolithic and modern European populations, suggesting that the Minoan peoples were descendants of the Neolithic settlers of Crete [7].

Although the writing of the culture (Linear A) has yet to be deciphered, we can infer much of their way of life from images and objects. For instance, all jewellery seems to be associated with females, and only with elites. Jewellery may have had an important role in rituals and may have been symbols of rites of passage. All of this taken together suggests that Minoan jewellery may have played an active role in linking elite females to the divine [8].

The disappearance of the culture has been debated for centuries. One possible explanation is that a tsunami generated by a volcanic eruption caused so much damage to the agriculture and fishing that the Minoans were doomed. However, modelling suggests that the tsunami would not have been damaging enough to completely wipe out the civilization. It is possible that the tsunami alongside the other consequences of the eruption – ash fall, earthquakes, pumice drifts – could have finished off the culture [6].

The Individuals of Moni Odigitria:

The five individuals in this sample were found at a site in present-day Crete, Greece. The site of Moni Odigitria is in the area of Ag. Ioannis, South-Central Crete. The individuals in this sample were carbon dated to between 3,700 and 4,000 years old [10].

The site of Moni Odigitria is a cemetery, close to the Monastery of Odigitria. The site consists of two tholos tombs (Tholos A and Tholos B), also known as beehive tombs, which is a burial structure in the shape of a dome, but which is not a true dome – it is made to look this way with the use of successively smaller rings of stones. A rectangular building, including an ossuary (a pit in which the bones of dead people are places), was attached to the east side of Tholos B, and a courtyard was in front of the entrance to Tholos A. The ossuary was packed full of the bones of fifty- to fifty-five individuals, as well as over 2,000 sherds and twenty-three seals, with almost no soil. It is believed that the ossuary was filled in a single event, probably from bodies first buried in Tholos B [10].

The site was close to an ancient Minoan city, known as Phaistos. The city, which covered of three hills in an east-west line, was destroyed by the nearby town of Gorthina roughly 2,200 years ago. The city had a Minoan palace, built by the Mycenaean peoples [11].

Genetic analysis of the individuals in this sample demonstrated that the Minoans were a homogenous population and closely related to the Mycenaeans, with most of their ancestry coming from early Anatolian Neolithic farmers, and most of the rest of their ancestry coming from the Caucasus or Iran [10].

All of the individuals in this sample belonged to different mitochondrial haplogroups. One of the individuals belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup U, which was the most common haplogroup among European hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic and still exists in Europe today although at lower frequencies due to the genetic contribution of incoming European farmers [13]. This individual was the only male in the sample, and belonged to Y-chromosomal haplogroup G, which is common in Europe today but thought to be of Anatolian or Iranian origin [14]. One of the individuals belonged to the haplogroup K, which is common in Europe today and was recently derived from U [15]. One of the individuals belonged to haplogroup I, which dates to the Paleolithic Iran/Caucuses area, and likely arrived with steppe peoples into Europe [16]. The final individual belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup J, which can be found in about 12% of the present European population and is also found in Middle East and North-East Africa. It originated in the Paleolithic (45,000 years ago), potentially in the Caucuses area [17]. Individuals of this haplogroup may produce higher body heat – a trait which may have been selected for in northern Europe [18].


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