Archaeologists worked with primatologists to re-examine wall-paintings of monkeys in a Minoan building buried in volcanic ash around 1600 BCE. at the site of Akrotiri, which is located on the Greek island of Thera in the Aegean Sea. No monkeys are known to have lived in Greece at the time. Most of the monkeys in the painting have been identified as olive baboons, which are native to Egypt, but one monkey, with distinctive fur and an S-shaped tail, was identified as a grey langur, a species that lives in Nepal, Bhutan, and the Indus Valley of India.
It was already known that the Minoans had contact with Egypt. And this wall mosaic hints at contacts with the Indus River Valley civilization, as well. Or perhaps it demonstrates the far-reaching and interconnected nature of the trade networks even in the Bronze Age.
Getting DNA from Indus River Valley Civilization burials is quite difficult, as the hot South Asian climate provides the perfect conditions for degrading biological material. After 5,000 years in the ground there is usually nothing left to sequence. But for the first time, a full genome has been sequenced! A team from Deccan College in India successfully recreated a genome from an individual buried in a cemetery at the site of Rakhigarhi, in Haryana, India. They were able to get enough undamaged DNA by patiently re-sampling the skeleton over 100 times and pooling the results.
It has been known that there are cultural connections between the Indus River Valley Civilization and Iranian civilization. It has even been theorized that the hunter-gatherers who lived in the ecologically rich valley learned farming from Iran. The recent study therefore compared the Rakhigarhi remains to genomes from 523 genetically sampled from Gonur in Turkmenistan and Shahr-i-Sokhta in Iran.
Their analysis showed that the genes associated with this individual’s Iranian ancestry came from before the time when farmers and hunter-gatherers in the area separated from each other. This individual’s Iranian ancestors left before farming spread through Iran, meaning that the Indus River Valley civilization did not learn farming from Iran but independently decided to give up hunting and gathering for farming. The genetic analyses also found that 11 individuals from the 523 belonged to the same genetic group as the Indus River Valley Civilization remains. That suggests that the 11 were migrants, or near descendants of migrants, from the Indus River Valley.