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DNA Analysis Of Ancient Phoenician From Carthage Reveals European Ancestry

28 May 2016, 7:11 am EDT By Catherine Cabral-Isabedra Tech Times
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An ancient Phoenician from Carthage has European roots, a DNA analysis has revealed.

The remains of the ancient Phoenecian, referred to as the "Young Man of Byrsa," were found in 1994 when gardeners accidently discovered a Punic burial crypt in front of the National Museum of Carthage. The bones were excavated by researchers from Tunisia and France and were sent to France for further studies.

The discovered Phoenician was named Ariche or "the desired man" by Tunisia's former Minister of Culture and Protection of National Heritage Abderraouf El Basti.

Researchers led by University of Otago, New Zealand Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith said that the DNA sequencing of the 2,500-year-old Phoenician's entire mitochondrial genome revealed that the young man is of European ancestry and lived on the Iberian Peninsula from the late sixth century BC.

The DNA matches with the U5b2cl, one of the oldest European haplotypes that can be found in only 1 percent of the modern populations of today. A haplotype is a group of genes that an individual inherits from a parent.

"Interestingly, our analysis showed that Ariche's mitochondrial genetic makeup most closely matches that of the sequence of a particular modern-day individual from Portugal," said Matisoo-Smith.

Tracing The Gene

Phoenicians are widely believed to originate from areas corresponding to today's Lebanon. They spread their influence from the Mediterranean to the Iberian Peninsula where they maintained dwellings and began commerce. It was in Carthage where the Phoenicians were known to have flourished in their trading.

However, when the researchers conducted a DNA analysis of 47 Lebanese people, not one of them had the U5b2cl haplotype.

A past study identified the presence of U5b2cl in two ancient hunter-gatherers unearthed in Northwestern Spain. This has led Matisoo-Smith to theorize that despite the movement of farming people to replace the hunter-gatherers, their lineage could have persevered in the Iberian Peninsula's far south and offshore islands. These Phoenicians were then brought to Carthage as a result of Punic and Phoenician trading.

Learning About The Phoenicians

Learning about the Phoenicians is important since they shaped the Western civilization of today. For one, they were responsible for the first alphabetic writing system.

Little is known about the Phoenicians and hopefully the recent findings would spawn further research about their ancestry and their contributions to the modern world, said Matisoo-Smith.

The study is published in PLOS ONE on May 25.

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