Maritime trade has been documented between the Minoans and Egypt's Old Kingdom, copper-bearing Cyprus, Canaan and the Levantine coasts beyond, and Anatolia. Their high palace culture was one of the flashiest and most memorable of antiquity.
Some historians see the volcanic eruption on the island of Thera about 100 km distant from Crete, which took place not long before the demise of the Minoan society as a force that weakened them and made them vulnerable to Mycenaean invaders, and also associate this erruption with the Atlantis myth recounted by Plato, which may have been received by him in a somewhat distorted version through Egyptian historical records of the event.
The Myceneans spoke an early verision of the Indo-European Greek language that is still spoken in Crete today and was written on Crete in a writing system called Linear B until they adopted a simpler writing system, ultimately descended from the Phoenician alphabet, now used by mathematicians, fraternities, sororities, classical literature scholars, Greek people, and in a modified form, called Cyrillic, by most of the nations of Eastern Europe that were historically Orthodox Christian, as opposed to Roman Catholic.
The Minoan language was recorded in writing too, in a script called Linear A , in use from about 1625 B.C.E. until the fall of Minoan civilization, which then formed the basis for the recording of Mycenaean Greek in Linear B.
The Mycenean Linear B script is essentially the same as the (somewhat earlier) Linear A one. The only important differences are (apart from rounding or simplification of some signs) the emergence of a handful of "new" syllabary signs, that cannot be found in any Linear A document (almost all Linear A signs continued to see some use in Linear B, but the reverse is not true).
Linear A may also have been used by the Trojans who were contemporaries of the Minoans.
The Linear A script, however, was used by a far smaller number of scribes, probably numbering in the dozens for the entire period for which we have Linear A texts, for a far narrower range of tasks, mostly related to bureaucratic record keeping for matters like ration entitlements and shipments of goods that would be the province of lawyers and accountants today.
When the Myceneans adopted the Greek alphabet, a small number of documents used it to transcribe statements in a non-Greek language of Crete that was very likely Minoan, those texts are called Eteocretian.
There are other sources for the Minoan language as well.
A small number of Egyptian medical texts, in a form of hieroglyphics that we can translate, phonetically recount Minoan incantations to heal illnesses. There are also ancient Egyptian style guides to explaining to scribes how to write Minoan proper names, as the Egyptians had trade relations with them and a small ex-patriot community of Minoans.
Structurally, these words look and sound a great deal like words in Hattic or Hurrian, which were non-Indo-European languages of Anatolian kingdoms immediately prior to the linguistically Indo-European Hittites (in the case of Hattic) and parallel to them (in the case of the Hurrian language of the Mittani empire), which remained a liturgical language (a bit like pre-Vatican II church Latin or Hebrew prior to its restoration as a living language in Israel) until some time after Bronze Age collapse, a series of major political upheavals in the Mediterrean area including the Trojan War and the collapse of the Hittite empire around 1200 BCE. Hattic and Hurrian are understood today by scholars of ancient languages to a reasonable extent because it was attested in writing by the Hittites and there were some bilingual texts prepared that have assisted the process of deciphering them.
[B]ased on toponyms and personal names, [Hattic] may have been related to the otherwise unattested Kaskian language. Certain similarities between Hattic and both Northwest (e.g., Abkhaz) and South Caucasian (Kartvelian) languages have led to assumptions by some scholars about the possibility of a linguistic block stretching from central Anatolia to the Caucasus.
Today, the closest living language to Hurrian is probably found among the Northeast Caucasian languages, "spoken in the Russian republics of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, northern Azerbaijan, and in northeastern Georgia, as well as in diaspora populations in Russia, Turkey, and the Middle East."
We can derive considerable insight into the non-Indo-European languages of the Aegean from a non-Indo-European substrate in Greek, consisting of something on the order of a thousand words with atypical for Indo-European language sound combinations and grammatical forms that seem to show affinity with the non-Indo-European languages of Anatolia. Proper place names of pre-Mycenean origins show continuity with pre-Hittite language proper place names across the Aegean into Western Anatolia, suggesting a common linguistic community, as far as the ancient province of Cilicia, which was approximately as far east as the current coastal border of Syria and Turkey.
Pre-Greek words often show variations which are not found in inherited words. . . . [T]hese variations show certain patterns, so that they can be used to recognize Pre-Greek elements. . . . we have a large corpus of material. . . . it contains some 1000 Pre-Greek etyma. . . .
It is generally accepted, on the basis of the place names, that the same language was once spoken in Greece and in (western) Asia Minor. . . . such forms are found in the south as far as Cilicia . . . . But it is mostly impossible to distinguish between substratum words and - (mostly) later -
loans from Asia Minor. A word may have been taken over through commerce etc., as happens between two neighbouring countries, or since the time when Greeks settled in Asia Minor, which happened probably as early as in the 14th century. . . . from a methodological point, it is better to consider such words as Pre-Greek, and only to take them as - normal - loan words when there is reason to do so, but it is clear that here we may often make mistakes. A good example is . . . `clew, ball of wool ready for spinning'. The word is clearly related with Luw., Hitt. talupa/i- `lump, clod'. The Greek word is typical for Pre-Greek words: CaC-up- (with a = o before u); there is no IE etymology (Melchert, Orpheus 8 (1998) 47-51 does not convince). So it is Pre-Greek / Anatolian. Also, `clew...' is not a word that you bring home from overseas; it is an everyday word, which the Greeks took up at home. . . . the word was brought to Greece by the settlers from Anatolia who brought their language, which, from another perspective, we call Pre-Greek to Greece. So it is a loan fron an Anatolian language, but from the one that was also spoken in Greece before the Indo-European speaking Greeks arrived there. The essential point is that it should be recognized that substratum words are a frequent phenomenon. . . . in this way we can learn something about the old languages of Anatolia, and of the role of Anatolia in early history. And, of course, it is part of the oldest
history of Greece. As to `Pelasgian' and related theories which assume an Indo-European substratum in Greece, these theories have failed . . . `Pelasgian' has done much harm, and it is time to definitely reject it. The latest attempt was Heubeck's `Minoisch-Mykenische' . . . where the material was reduced to some ten words; the theory has been tacitly abandoned[.]
Finally, there is good reason to believe that Minoan was part of the same language family as several other now dead languages of the region that are grouped in the Tyhrrhenian language family that consists of Etruscan, Raetic, and Lemnian. We have a number of fragments of writing in the Lemnian and Rhaetic languages, and considerable volumes of texts that are partially understood, some bilingual or discernable from translations by ancient Romans, of the non-Indo-European Etruscan language once spoken in the general vicinity of what is now Tuscanny, Italy. These languages seem to have strong linguistic affiliations with each other and probably have linguistic affiliations with Minoan as well.
What About The Indo-European Anatolian Languages?
There were several Indo-European languages in Anatolia other than Hittite. Specifically:
Luwian (luwili), a close relative of Hittite spoken in adjoining regions sometimes under Hittite control. Cuneiform Luwian, glosses and short passages in Hittite texts written in Cuneiform script.
Hieroglyphic Luwian, written in Anatolian hieroglyphs on seals and in rock inscriptions.
Lycian (Lycian A; standard Lycian), spoken in Lycia (possibly Lukka) in the Iron Age, a descendant of Luwian, extinct in ca. the 1st century BC, fragmentary. Milyan, also called Lycian B, a dialect of Lycian, known from a single inscription.
Carian, spoken in Caria (possibly Karkija), fragmentarily attested from graffiti by Carian mercenaries in Egypt from ca. the 7th century BC, extinct ca. in the 3rd century BC.
Pisidian and Sidetic (Pamphylian), fragmentary.
Palaic, spoken in the north-central Anatolian region of Pala, extinct around the 13th century BC, known only fragmentarily from quoted prayers in Hittite texts.
Lydian, spoken in Lydia, extinct in ca. the 1st century BC, fragmentary.
There were likely other languages of the family that have left no written records, such as the languages of Lycaonia and Isauria, as well as languages such as Lutescan which are too poorly attested to be sure they are Anatolian.
All of the Anatolian languages ceased to be living languages no later than the 1st century B.C. when Alexander the Great and his successors imposed the Greek language on his Anatolian subjects.
These Anatolian Indo-European languages are particularly well attested in Western Anatolia in the Iron Age, after Bronze Age collapse, and appear to be largely folk languages or simply strong regional dialects of Hittite that grow distinct when there is no longer an empire to standardize them (much as the Romance languages did following the demise of the Roman Empire), rather than languages in which official business is conducted, for the most part, during the reign of the Hittite empire. A few are attested to some degree in Western Anatolia (mostly by references from people writing in other languages, rather than in written form themselves) before the rise of the Hittite empire ca. 1800 B.C.E., such as Luwian and Palaic, but there is little influence that they were dominant and widespread in the region at that time.
In any case, these Indo-European Anatolian languages seem to be implausible linguistic relatives of Minoan which follows a strongly non-Indo-European pattern and has non-Indo-European traits, and which is similar to attested non-Indo-European Anatolian languages. To the extent that there are similarities, they are likely to be substrate influences in these geographically compact, less influential Indo-European Anatolian languages.
Instead, it is reasonable to suppose that the same migration wave, probably driven by climate fluctuations causing widespread regional political distruptions around 2000 B.C.E. that brought the proto-Hittites to Anatolia also swept other bands of somewhat related Indo-Europeans subject to similar non-Indo-European substrate influences into the region and that each of these groups were small recent arrivals just establishing themselves locally in the pre-Hittite era which were not present, or where not a significant political and economic and population force, during the era in which an Anatolian population conquered or filled a political vacuum in Crete around 3100 B.C.E. The Hittites expanded from a single city sometime around 2000 B.C.E. to 1700 B.C.E. to rule almost all of Anatolia and most of the Northern Levant in a few hundred years, and it seems plausible that other newly arrived Indo-European communities were similarly small in scale at that time, if one accepts the very substantial evidence for Indo-European origins outside of Anatolia.
One scholarly 2008 analysis concluded based on PIE verbs rejected "an early separation of Anatolian languages altogether and yield results that place a genealogical split of Anatolian (and Tocharian) within a more recent grouping together with Greek, Albanian and Armenian, in a single branch together with Indo-Iranian, though at distance from the genealogical splits of Balto-Slavic, Italo-Celtic and Germanic that are harboured within another branch, thus supporting proponents of an IE expansion that roughly parallels the adoption of the bronze metallurgy." In my view, this is in accord, at least in the Anatolian case, with the evidence from historical records and archaeology, although it is somewhat more of a stretch in the Tocharian case.
The Big Picture
One does not have to be a particularly zealous "lumper" or make any geographically implausible assumptions to observe that the three main language families of the Caucasus (Northwestern, Northeastern and Southern), Hattic, Hurrian, Minoan and the Tyrrenean language family are probably more closely related to each other in linguistic origins than they are to languages in any other language family.
While beyond the scope of this post to explore in depth, it is also not implausible, in my mind, that these languages, in turn, may also be part of the same macro-language family as the now dead non-Indo-European languages including Sumerian, Kassite, Elamite and Harappan languages. Sumerian was spoken in Mesopotamia (i.e. Iraq). Kassite was spoken in the mountains to the east of Mesopotamia in present day Iran for most of its existence (overlapping Hurrian linguistic territory), but became the language of Sumeria for a while when the Akkadian empire collapsed, in what was viewed as something of a restoration of traditional Sumerian culture. The Elamite language spoken in most of present day Iran (then Persia) had a number of general grammatical similarities with the other non-Indo-European languages of this region, engaged in vigorous trade with Sumeria, and derived its agricultural technologies from Mesopotamia. The Harappan civilization of the Indus River Valley, now mostly in Pakistan, appears to have received its agricultural technology from Mesopotamia, had vigorous maritime trade with and an expatriot community in Sumeria, and appears to have been settled in a single cohesive event that created a polity that was never strained by ethnic or regional divides strong enough to lead to political division or war.
Modern scholarship tends to show that the Harappan cultural area didn't not extend further into India aside from a couple of frontier trade outposts on India's Southeastern coast, probably in part because the Fertile Crescent agriculture package was a poor fit for its climate in some areas, and because it had to compete with early rice agriculture from the east, whose legacy are the Munda language speakers of Northeast India further north.
There is no evidence that any languages or cultures of this broad, non-Semitic, non-Indo-European linguistic grouping ever managed to have a lasting, permanent community in the Levant anywhere but in its very northernmost reaches practically into Anatolia, nor is there any evidence that this linguistic grouping ever penetrated Africa or even Southern Arabia. Even if that happened, all traces of it are probably lost forever to history.
What Is The Time Depth Of The Greater Hurrian Language Family?
There are limits to how far back these languages can be comfortable known to have been present. The Bronze Age Minoan culture appeared in Crete starting around 3100 B.C.E. and seems to represent a pretty major break with the preceding Neolithic cultures of the region which prevailed from about 6000 B.C.E. until asbout 3200 B.C.E. So, there may have been a language shift and a demic shift, at least among the elites, when the Minoan culture emerges in Crete. The language shift brought about by the Mycenaeans may also have been more of an elite phenomena than full fledged demographic replacement.
To the extent that Hurrian and Hattic have affinities to different language families of the Caucasus mountains, these divisions probably date to sometime in the Neolithic era.
"A comparative study of DNA haplogroups of modern Cretan men showed that a male founder group from Anatolia or the Levant, is shared with the Greeks," according to R.J. King, S.S. Ozcan et al., "Differential Y-chromosome Anatolian influences on the Greek and Cretan Neolithic," via Wikipedia.
The Villanovan Etruscans culture arose in the Iron Age as a sharp break from preceding Bronze Age Terramare culture of the area, with the proto-Villanovan culture appearing around the 11th century B.C.E. and recognizably Etruscan cities emerging starting from approximately the 8th century B.C.E. until the 1st century C.E. when it succumbed to the overwhelming influence of the Roman empire. This timing is close in time to the period when Italic language colonies were established in Italy and the Villanovan culture had some similar religious innovations (like cremation) and technological innovations to the Romans. But for the contemporaneous historical accounts in Roman documents and the inscriptions that they left behind, archaeologists would probably have assumed that the Etruscans were a somewhat culturally innovative Celtic or Italic culture, rather than a non-Indo-European one. Etruscan artifacts and cultural features are suggestive of an origin to the north of Italy somewhere between it and the Central European origin of the Urnfield culture which is widely presumed to have been Indo-European linguistically (as a source for both Celtic and Italic languages), but Etruscan origin myths as recounted by the Romans suggest a Lydian origin for them (i.e. near the West coast of Anatolia). Still others suggest that the Etruscan civilization was a cultural innovation of the indigeneous peoples of the region or that their origins were among the "sea peoples" of the Bronze Age collapse era (a population that is increasingly looking like a Mycenaean led, rather than a non-Indo-European population migration). Their origins were controversial even in classical times. The Etruscan language has also been demonstrated to have a significant number of loan words from Afro-Asiatic languages that were probably either proto-Berber or Punic, presumably as a result of maritime trade with North Africa.
Genetic studies attempting to identify the origins of the Etruscans or at least people in the region today, have pointed various to Anatolians, the people of Caucasus, and the Near East, at sometime after farming was invented, and ancient DNA studies have noted significant population replacement at least among Etruscan elites between the Villanovan era and the Roman era, but any number of scenarios from early Neolithic arrival of an indigenous population to migration from these regions via Central Europe to a direct maritime arrival of the Etruscans when their civilization appeared would be consistent with the genetic evidence. An Upper Paleolithic origin for the Etruscans can be ruled out, but the genetics in this case are generally less informative than the archaeology and linguistic evidence.
The Hittites did not have a written language until they adopted the Akkadian writing cuniform writing system not long after their empire started to emerge around 18000 BCE (and there earliest records concerning them are written in the Semitic Akkadian language of the Mesopotamian traders of that time from a century or two earlier), and the Hurrians did not have written language or receive much notice in Akkadian, Sumerian or Egyptian records of that time, so the Hurrian culture has to be dated mostly based on continuities and discontinuities in archaeological cultures, a particularly hard task in Anatolia where some of the first plant and animal domestications of the Neolithic era took place around 8000 B.C.E. and which has been more or less continuously inhabited by some food producing civiliazation or another since then.
Taken as a whole, it seems more likely than not, albeit not a matter of scholarly certainty, that from at least the Copper Age onwards there was a non-Indo-European Greater Hurrian language family (quite a bit broader, in actuality than the more widely recognized and more narrow Hurro-Uratian language family) that extended at its greatest extent from Tuscany to Anatolia (not necessarily without pockets of other languages) and included essentially all of the pre-Indo-European inhabitants of the Aegean. Minoan was likely a linguistic relative of Hurrian, or more likely, the geographically closer Hattic language.
What About Old Europe?
There have been some suggestions that the closet known living lingustic relative of the Basque language is Northeast Caucasian, (a link shared with Hurrian), although this is not a particularly solid claim and the inquiry into the antecedents of the Basque culture and language is a matter beyond the scope of this post, other than to identify some basic boundaries on those speculations. Its geographic remoteness from other dead non-Indo-European languages that are historically attested, and a long history of inconclusive or even absurd efforts to link Basque to any other language family or language isolate in the world past and present, because it does not fit neatly into a language category box bespeaks caution against making inferences based on flimsy evidence when considering the issue.
Separate, although not entirely unrelated to the origins of the Basque culture and language, is the question of what pre-Indo-European languages were spoken in Neolithic Europe. Assuming the general correctness of the Kurgan hypothesis for Indo-European origins, which, at least in broad outline, if not in every specific detail, is the leading theory on the question with good reason, the language of pre-Bronze Age Europeans, for which we have no historical evidence (other than the Vinca script of the greater Balkans, which may be a proto-language that can never tell us much about the spoken language of the first farmers of Europe), we must rely heavily on inference to discern plausible answers.
The first stage of this inference would be to break European pre-history into chunks with apparent culture continuity and interaction prior to the arrival of Indo-European languages that could support a common linguistic family and that might be reflected in Europe's current geography through substrated influences that have shaped Europe's various Indo-European language families.
One obvious chunk involves pre-Neolithic European, Near Eastern and North African hunter-gatherers, who were predominantly replaced by a new population of farmers and herders, and whose languages almost surely died when the remaining populations were assimilated into farming and herding populations or when they entered into intense trading relationships with farming and herding populations of Europe at their fringes. There is no way that these languages, which probably had little impact on the languages of the new arrivals (by way of comparison, Ainu words account for just 1% of modern Japanese words and none of its writing or grammar, and Native American words and grammar have had only trival impact on the European languages spoken in the Americas) - perhaps a few place names or proper names survive, but it is unlikely that there is much more of a linguistic legacy from them. There are good reasons to suspect that the Berber and Saami populations of Europe experienced language shifts (probably around 1000 B.C.E. in the case of the Saami), since their likely genetic origins do not coincide with the likely places of origin of their languages. Efforts to identify hunter-gatherer substrates in these languages have not been very fruitful.
All of the other populations of Europe (including a majority of the genetic origins of the Basques), with the possible exception of some populations of the Baltics who may have epipaleolithic origins as fishing based subsistance populations and may have spoken a Uralic language from the start, probably trace their European ancestors to some time after 6500 B.C.E. and are associated with Neolithic populations. The only attested languages that could even plausible have roots in the hunter-gatherer languages of Europe other than Uralic (which is disfavored for a variety of reasons itself), are the Paleo-Siberian languages such as the Yenesian Ket language.
The next chunk of relative cultural continuity is the first wave of Neolithic populations until at least the Enolithic age -- Danubian farmers and kindred populations in the East, Cardial Pottery non-dairy farmers on Europe's Southern Coast, and megalithic populations in coastal Atlantic regions. Their linguistic affiliations can probably never be known with certainty, but linguistic substrate evidence, ancient proper names, and the linguistic trajectories of the places of origin of these populations may offer some strong inferences on this point.
Those inferences largely point to remote linguistic relationships of these populations to the linguistic group that I have identified as Greater Hurrian, but are not terribly compelling and make sense mostly because there is no real evidence pointing strongly to any other interpretation. There are also other possibilities such as a now lost Afro-Asiatic, pre-Semitic language speaking population of Levantine farmers who might have been part of this wave (and have left a legacy of low levels of Y-DNA haplgroup E and haplogroup T types), the possibility of totally lost language famillies, and the lingering question of what strange brew of circumstances and linguistic creolizations could have given rise to the Proto-Indo-European language which seems to have arisen more or less in the vicinity where Danubian farmers and Uralic populations were interacting at the time.
Modern genetic and linguistic and archaeological evidence largely rule out any significant eastbound linguistic influence on the Persians or Europeans, with the possible exception of the Uralic languages (a matter of considerably scholarly disagreement), until the historic era. Likewise, there is really no evidence to suggest that any of the Altic languages, East Asian languages, Tibetan-Burmese languages, or Southeast Asian languages have origins in the West. A more remote possibility, that doesn't really cross the East-West linguistic line, is that a Harappan presence in the B.M.A.C. area may have influenced the Indo-European or Uralic or some of the Caucuasian languages. The Dravidian languages, whose South Asian origins around 2500 B.C.E. are obscure and contested, and the Na-Dene languages of the Americas which have linguistic ties to the Yenesian languages (presumably from 14,000 or more years ago), are the only notable exceptions in which Eastern languages may have plausible strong pre-historic roots in the West.
The Basque, whose extremely high levels of lactose tolerance not found in the ancient DNA of megalithic farmers (that persists today in populations such as the Gascons of Southern France), who did not really participate in the megalithic culture, probably had significant genetic origins in dairy farmers, who probably arrived on the scene later than the megalithic farmers, but clearly were present before the earliest Indo-European Celts arrived in Iberia. Basque DNA, as indicated by mtDNA signatures like haplogroups V and certain ancient U haplogroups like Ub5, probably assimiliated, as did other French and Iberian populations near the Franco-Cantabrian refugia, largers share of hunter-gather populations (particularly maternally) than other populations of Europe. But, I find it doubtful that the language or culture have pre-Neolithic Iberian roots. How they got there is even less clear than when they probably arrived as a cultural entity (even if they an ancesteral component with significant deeper genetic roots). The Vasconic substrate clearly once had a larger geographic range than the Basque language does today, and may have even extended to Sardina, but its exact geographic extent is unclear.
Unless place names associated with a Vasconic substrate, which in its original formulation encompasses more or less the entire megalithic cultural region, were actually megalithic culture place names, the lack of identity between the Basque culture and the megalithic one may imply that the geographic extent of the Vasconic substrate may have been fairly narrow, or that Basque language family languages are recipients, rather than sources of Vasconic place names (i.e. toponymy and hydronymy) and substrate characteristics (such as base twenty number systems) from the prior megalithic culture of the larger region. Alternately, the features could have separate common origins in an Anatolian proto-language shared by the Greater Hurrian languages or some of the unattested major European branches of them. (Any megalithic culture, for example, may have had a language remotely derivative of a Cardial pottery culture.) The apparent regional substrate influences seem to be real, but German linguist Theo Vennemann's attribution of them to an originally Basque source, and his alternate somewhat more plausible hypothesis that the Atlantic megalithic culture substrate may have been para-Semitic, perhaps through the Phoenicians, have not received wide acceptance and are a stretch, at best. An alternative to either of these hypotheses would be that the linguistic commonalities have roots in ideosyncratic elements of a Celtic substrate which also coincides fairly closely with the region he identified (but fails to explain how these traits could end up in Basque regions as well).
There is definitely an Indo-European layer, and possible two or three in some places, representing Celts, Romans and Germanic populations, for example, in parts of Northern Europe, and pre-Slavic and Slavic populatios in Eastern Europe. These layers have considerable archaeology, strong remnants in existing linguistic populations as they are the "top" or "near top" layer of ethnogenesis, and often, some degree of written history to elucidate them.
There is an "indigineous" Northern European fishing population associated with the Comb Ceramic peoples (possible from the epipaleolithic era, which is, of course, later after the Last Glacial Maximum of 20,000 years ago) associated with the Uralic linguistic group admixed somewhat with possible repopulating Southern refugia populations and circumpolar elements at the Northeastern fringe of Europe. Realistically, Uralic is probably closer in age as a language to Indo-European, perhaps six thousand years give or take.
There are probably some places in Europe, in addition to Basque country and Tuscanny and the Aegean basin, where there was probably at least one Enolithic or Bronze Age non-Indo-European population between the first wave Neolithic farmers and the Indo-Europeans that was not strongly in continuity with either, such as the Minoans and possibly the entire Aegean basin, but it isn't entirely clear where this happened. We must look mostly to archaeology for these answers and seem to be the exception rather than the rule outside the Mediterrean basin.
Finally, of course, there are population and linguistic movements that are historically documented in the last two thousand years, such as the Jewish diaspora, the Gypsies, the Moors in Iberia, and the 20th century immigrant populations of Europe, mostly from former colonies of European powers.