Racial Type of the Ancient Minoans
from Races of Europe by Carleton S. Coon, 1939
A native of Crete, a perfect representative of the small Mediterranean race, ... identical, as nearly as can be determined, with the mean type of the Cretans in Minoan times. - Carleton S. Coon, Races of Europe, Plate 22

C.I.: 79, F.I.: 90.9, Hair: Black, Eyes: Light Brown

The earliest land to receive metal which is considered part of Europe was Crete, and there the Bronze Age Minoan civilization began a century or two before 3,000BC. Crete had been occupied in earlier times by Neolithic peoples, of whom unfortunately no physical traces remain. The Metal Age was introduced by immigrants from two directions - from the Egyptian Delta, about the time that Menes was extending his power northward, and from the mainland of Asia, presumably from Palestine. The Cretan manner of metal-working was largely of Asiatic rather than Egyptian inspiration. (14)

Although Neolithic remains are absent, the Minoan Age is represented by one hundred and more skulls, and a smaller number of long bones, (15) as well as a considerable body of very realistic fresco painting and sculpture in the round.

The Cretan skulls found at various sites on the island belong to a fairly uniform type; this is a small Mediterranean variety with a mean cranial index of about 72. Metrically, they could fit perfectly into a number of Egyptian collections, from the Naqada predynastic to the Middle Empire. On the whole, these Cretan crania are a little smaller, shorter-faced, and less leptorrhine than the majority of the Egyptian series, and show leanings in the direction of the Copper Age skulls from Alishar, and the Early Bronze Age ones from Palestine. The mean type was somewhere between Danubian, Cappadocian, and Egyptian forms.

That this was a short-statured variety of Mediterranean race is shown by the long bones; local means vary from 156 to 162cm. Hence, the Cretans were shorter than the Egyptians as well as lower faced. The bodily build of the Cretans is well known from fresco painting and sculpture; the local ideal of a small waist and wiry, light, but vigorous musculature, which occurs so constantly in Minoan art, must have been based to a large extent on reality. Nevertheless, there was a variant minority with broad bodies, and, in women, large breasts;(16) this departure from the usual Mediterranean form was also seen in Egypt, and does not necessarily imply the presence of an alien race.

Egyptians, however, rarely colored the wall paintings of their women purely white; except in the case of goddesses and such rare mortals as Hetep Heres II, the usual color is a pinkish yellow.

Left: Three Minoan ladies from the Palace of Knossos; Right: A Minoan man from the Palace of Knossos. Both belong to the Mediterranean racial type.

The Minoans were prevailingly brunet in hair and eye color, but in Late Minoan times, at least, blondism was known, but apparently not common.(17) The skin is represented by Minoan painters as a deep terra cotta for men, and white for women. This exaggerates the difference between outdoor and indoor habits of life. It again reflects Egyptian influence. The Egyptians, however, rarely colored the wall paintings of their women purely white; except in the case of goddesses and such rare mortals as Hetep Heres II, the usual color is a pinkish yellow.

The facial features of the Cretans, if one discounts the conventions of the artists, were purely Mediterranean; the straight, prominent nose, with its high root, the smooth profile of the forehead, and the lightness of the mandible are all clearly shown. The hair form is wavy or lightly curled, and the beard, usually clean shaven, was apparently scanty. A variant racial type, which may indicate an Alpine element similar to that found in Greece (see following section), is seen in a broad-faced form, associated with a lateral bodily habitus, and an occasional snub nose. Although the physical type of the Cretans has changed somewhat since the fall of the Minoan power, the features of the happy and athletic people shown on the frescoes at Knossus, and the preoccupied frown of the snake goddess, are still familiar to us, for they reflect the common heritage of the Mediterranean race elsewhere.

Most of the Early Minoan skulls belong to the Mediterranean type just described, which shows a blending between the usual Neolithic variety and the convex-nosed type prevalent in the Near East. In some sites, as at Hagios Nikolas and Patema, the population was exclusively Mediterranean. In others, a few brachyccphalic examples occur, and these apparently belong to the same type found at Cyprus.

In the later Minoan periods the brachychephals increased in numbers, but never formed more than a minor element in the population, probably not more than a sixth at most. Since 70 per cent of the population of Cyprus may have belonged to this type, the Cretans must have kept themselves fairly free from eastern admixture after the initial establishment of their national culture and power. At the time of the Dorian invasions, as today, the Cretans were still predominantly Mediterranean.

Toward the end of the Early Minoan period, somewhat before 2100 B.C., strong Cycladic influences entered Crete, and it is possible that some of the Middle and Late Minoan skulls of unusual size and Megalithic conformation may be derived from this movement. The present population of Crete belongs largely to a tall Mediterranean type, which may partially antedate the Dorian arrival. (18)

(14) Childe, V.G.,The Bronze Age, pp. 19-20.
(15) Evans, Sir A., Palace of Minos at Knossus, vol. 1, pp. 7-13.
Duckworth, W.L.G., ARBS, vol. 9, 1902-03, pp. 344-355.
Hawes, C.H., and H.B., Crete, the Forerunner of Greeece, pp. 23-26.
Luschan, E. von ZFE, vol. 45, 1913, pp.307-393.
Rosinski, B., Kosmos, vol. 50, 1925, pp. 584-637.
Sergi, G., AJA, second ser., vol. 5, 1901, pp. 315-318.
(16) Myres, J.L., Who Were The Greeks? pp. 74-76.
(17) Myres, J.L., op. cit., pp. 198-199.
(18) Our data on which is based the assumption that all Cretans were of short stature are not numerous. The Philistines, presumably Cretan relatives in Palestine, are thought to have been tall, while some of the Mycenaeans in Greece were of large stature.