Saturday, July 29, 2017
Are the Lebanese descended from the ancient Canaanites?
There is a story in the Bible that tells of God’s call for the annihilation of the Canaanites, a people who lived in the area that is now Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian territories thousands of years ago. “You shall not leave alive anything that breathes,” God said in the passage. “But you shall utterly destroy them.” But a genetic analysis has found that the ancient population survived that divine call for their extinction, and their descendants live in modern Lebanon. “We can see the present-day Lebanese can trace most of their ancestry to the Canaanites or a genetically equivalent population,” said Chris Tyler-Smith, a geneticist with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute who is an author of the paper. “They derive just over 90% of their ancestry from the Canaanites.” Tyler-Smith and an international team of geneticists and archaeologists recovered ancient DNA from bones belonging to five Canaanites retrieved from an excavation site in Sidon, Lebanon, that were 3,650 to 3,750 years old. The team then compared the ancient DNA with the genomes of 99 living people from Lebanon that the group had sequenced. It found that the modern Lebanese people shared about 93% of their ancestry with the Bronze Age Sidon samples. “The conclusion is clear,” said Iosif Lazaridis, a geneticist at Harvard who was not involved in the study. “Based on this study it turns out that people who lived in Lebanon almost 4,000 years ago were quite similar to people who lived there today, to the modern Lebanese.” Marc Haber, a postdoctoral fellow at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in England and lead author on the study, said that compared with other Bronze Age civilizations, not much is known about the Canaanites. “We know about ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks, but we know very little about the ancient Canaanites because their records didn’t survive,” he said. Their writings may have been kept on papyrus, which did not stand the test of time as clay did. What is known about the Canaanites is that they lived and traded along the eastern coast of the present-day Mediterranean, a region that was known as the Levant. “What we see is that since the Bronze Age, this ancestry, or the genetics of the people there, didn’t change much,” Haber said. “It changed a little, but it didn’t change much and that is what surprised me.” He said researchers thought that migrations, conquests and the intermixing of Eurasian people — like the Assyrians, Persians or Macedonians — with the Canaanites 3,800 to 2,200 years ago might have contributed to the slight genetic changes seen in modern Lebanese populations. Still, the Lebanese retain most of their ancestral DNA from the Canaanites.