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The mystery of the 'blue monkeys' in ancient Grecian frescoes, solved

Monkeys appear in Grecian frescoes dating back to the Bronze Age 3,600 years ago, but monkeys aren't native to Greece or the Aegean isles.

 
Nonindigenous and even fictional animals and creatures have appeared in ancient and medieval artwork. And it's hilariously obvious when the artist never actually encountered the animal they're depicting, like those in medieval manuscripts.
But it's clear that the artists actually saw these monkeys in Grecian frescoes, or at least talked to someone who did in great detail, because the depictions are so accurate that researchers can identify the monkeys, according to a new study.

 
Vervet monkeys appear in a fresco from Akrotiri, Thera. They're known for their rounded muzzles, a white band on the forehead, an extended tail and elongated limbs -- all accurately shown in the fresco.
Baboons crop up in a fresco from Knossos, Crete. Their hallmarks, including a hairless nose, narrow waist, thick chest and face shape, make them easy to identify in the depiction.
The monkeys are even behaving as they would in real life, with the vervet monkeys climbing and the baboons on the ground.
Both are native to northeastern Africa. This builds on previous evidence that Minoan people had contact with this part of Africa, providing some of the strongest support yet.

 
One big difference from real life though is that the depicted monkeys are blue. But researchers believe that's because cultures identify colors differently on the spectrum, and these painters likely saw blue as belonging to the gray and green families of color. The same can also be said of fish scales in Minoan art.
 
Or it could be a nod to the ancient Egyptians, who deified baboons and used blue, considered a sacred color, to depict them.
The study published this week in the journal Antiquity.
 
"The small-bodied, agile and naturalistically represented vervet monkeys were most often associated with leisure activities," the authors wrote in the study. "Whereas the larger, sturdier, more terrestrial baboons -- monkeys that were already deified in nearby Egypt -- were attributed [to] more anthropomorphic behaviours and depicted in sacred or ritual events."
 
This research is part of what is called archaeoprimatology, a fairly new field that studies primates and archeology.
"This Aegean Bronze Age society, then, was the first European civilisation to perceive, represent, socially construct and, eventually, have contact with non-human primates," the authors wrote in the study. "The representation of primates in Minoan contexts confirms the early exchange of iconography and knowledge of monkeys among Aegean islanders, and substantiates their interaction with human populations from North Africa that might have had these primate species living around their coastal settlements."
 
The colorful, dramatic frescoes reveal that ancient Greeks were documenting their growing understanding of primates -- and showing that their islands were very connected to the rest of the world.