Finding Mycenaeans in Minoan Crete? Isotope And DNA analysis of human mobility in Bronze Age Crete

Michael Richards, Colin Smith, Olaf Nehlich, Vaughan Grimes, Darlene Weston, Alissa Mittnik, Johannes Krause, Keith Dobney, Yannis Tzedakis, Holley Martlew

Plos One
Published: August 10, 2022


We undertook a large-scale study of Neolithic and Bronze Age human mobility on Crete using biomolecular methods (isotope analysis, DNA), with a particular focus on sites dating to the Late Bronze Age (‘Late Minoan’) period. We measured the strontium and sulphur isotope values of animal remains from archaeological sites around the island of Crete to determine the local baseline values. We then measured the strontium and sulphur values of humans from Late Neolithic and Bronze Age sites. Our results indicate that most of the humans have sulphur and strontium isotope values consistent with being local to Crete, showing no evidence for a wide-scale movement of people from the Greek mainland or other areas away from Crete in these time periods. However, we found four individuals from the late Bronze Age (Late Minoan III) cemetery of Armenoi with sulphur isotope values not typically found in Crete and are instead consistent with an origin elsewhere. This cemetery at Armenoi also has one of only a few examples of the newly adopted Mycenaean Linear B script on Crete found outside of the palace sites, pointing to an influence (trade and possible migration) from the mainland, which may then be the place of origin of these four individuals. DNA (mtDNA) studies of eight Late Bronze Age individuals from Armenoi have results consistent with people living in Aegean region at this time and cannot be used to distinguish between individuals from Crete (‘Minoans’) and the Greek mainland [‘Mycenaeans’]).


The archaeology of Neolithic and Bronze Age Crete is among the longest and most studied regions and time periods in the world. This is particularly the case for the Late Bronze Age-Late Minoan periods. The end of the Bronze Age and the associated first appearance of Mycenaean material culture and architectural styles on Crete is particularly intriguing. Here we sought to add to the body of evidence for human mobility in these important time periods using biomolecular isotope and DNA methods. Our results point to a largely insular Neolithic and Bronze Age Crete, with little evidence of the movement of people to the island. We did find the exciting possibility of identifying newcomers to Crete at the end of the Minoan period, perhaps from mainland Mycenean Greece, at the LMIII necropolis/cemetery site of Armenoi, a site which also has evidence of Mycenaean Linear B script on a pottery vessel from this site at this time. Of course, this could have been an adoption of the written language and material culture from the mainland, or part of a trade network with Mycenaeans, rather than a movement of people. However, if our isotope evidence does indeed show that there were some individuals buried at Armenoi at this transition period at the end of the Minoan era that did not originate from Crete, we may then have evidence that this new writing style was brought to Crete by people moving from mainland Mycenaean Greece who were then buried at the cemetery in Armenoi.