Digging History

DNA discovery identifies living descendants of Biblical Canaanites

DNA research is shining new light on the Biblical Canaanite civilization, which existed thousands of years ago in the Middle East.

The ancient civilization, which created the first alphabet and is mentioned frequently in the Bible, has long fascinated historians. LiveScience reports that, because the Canaanites kept their records on papyrus, rather than clay, relatively little is known about them.

Now, however, scientists have found a genetic ‘trail’ back to the Canaanites’ ancient world.

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By sequencing the genomes of five Canaanites that lived 4,000 years ago with genomes from 99 people living in modern day Lebanon, researchers identified a strong genetic link to the mysterious civilization.

The results surprised the scientists, whose work was supported by U.K. biomedical research charity The Wellcome Trust.

"In light of the enormously complex history of this region in the last few millennia, it was quite surprising that over 90 percent of the genetic ancestry of present-day Lebanese was derived from the Canaanites," said Chris Tyler-Smith, senior group leader at The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in a statement.

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In addition to the ancient Canaanite DNA, the analysis of genomes from the modern day Lebanese people also showed a small proportion of Eurasian ancestry that may have come from conquests by Assyrians, Persians or Macedonians, according to the experts.

The researchers also discovered that the ancient Canaanites were a mixture of local people, who settled in farming villages during the Neolithic period, and eastern migrants who arrived about 5,000 years ago. “Using ancient DNA we show for the first time who were (genetically) the ancient Canaanites, how they were related to other ancient populations and what was their fate,” explained Marc Haber, a genetic data expert at The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in an email to Fox News. “Our work shows the power of genetics in filling gaps in human history when the historical records are absent or scarce.”

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Haber added that the results complement Biblical accounts of the Canaanites. While the Israelites are commanded to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites in Deuteronomy 20:16-18, Judges 1 describes the survival of a number of Canaanite communities.

Canaanites once lived in what we now recognize as Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The remains of the five ancient Canaanites studied as part of the DNA research were recovered in the modern-day Lebanese city of Sidon.

The research was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics on July 27.

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