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Ancient DNA tells the fate of the Canaanites

Haber et al. 2017

New DNA evidence suggests the Canaanite people who populated Israel and neighboring Middle Eastern countries thousands of years ago weren't annihilated, as most Old Testament Bible stories depict — they survived and are direct ancestors of people living in modern-day Lebanon.

Canaanites lived thousands of years ago in what are today Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. They created the first alphabet and established some of the earliest civilizations in and around the Mediterranean but left no written record of their culture. New DNA evidence reported in the American Journal of Human Genetics shows the Canaanites moved north, into Lebanon, and perhaps elsewhere in the Middle East.

What they found: Researchers sequenced DNA from the first ancient Canaanite genomes (five Canaanite individuals who lived 4,000 years ago in what is now Sidon in Lebanon) and compared it to genomes of 99 people in modern-day Lebanon. They found roughly 90% of the genetic ancestry of present-day Lebanese was derived from the Canaanites, suggesting genetic continuity in the region. Further genetic studies could show that the Canaanites survived in other countries in the modern-day Middle East.

"We found that the Canaanites were a mixture of local people who settled in farming villages during the Neolithic period and eastern migrants who arrived in the region about 5,000 years ago," said lead author Marc Haber with The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "The present-day Lebanese are likely to be direct descendants of the Canaanites, but they have in addition a small proportion of Eurasian ancestry that may have arrived via conquests by distant populations such as the Assyrians, Persians, or Macedonians."