A team of scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and its collaborators successfully sequenced the genes of five Bronze Age Canaanite remains found in an archaeological site in the Near East and made a remarkable discovery.
After comparing the ancient DNA with the DNA of modern-day people, researchers learned that present-day Lebanese had actually descended from Canaanites, who were supposedly annihilated after being subjected to divine judgment.
Who Are The Canaanites?
Canaanites were a mysterious race of people that was effectively driven out of their land and annihilated by Israelites after the Exodus, according to the Old Testament; however, the DNA evidence uncovered by archaeologists offers proof that the ancient race did not actually meet its end.
"We know about ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks, but we know very little about the ancient Canaanites because their records didn't survive. What is known about the Canaanites is that they lived and traded along the eastern coast of the present-day Mediterranean," lead author of the study Marc Haber explains.
So when Haber's team of researchers extracted and sequenced DNA from the five remains from the Sidon excavation site, they compared it with various ancient populations throughout history. Then they further narrowed it down and compared the ancient DNA with DNA samples extracted from a sample of 99 people — Christians, Druze, and Muslims — currently living in Lebanon. To their surprise, the results showed that the present-day Lebanese and the remains in Sidon share 93 percent of their ancestry.
"We can see the present-day Lebanese can trace most of their ancestry to the Canaanites or a genetically equivalent population. They derive just over 90 percent of their ancestry from the Canaanites," geneticist and co-author of the study Chris Tyler-Smith confirms.
The remaining 7 percent is actually derived from ancient people who migrated from the Steppes.
Did The Bible Get It Wrong?
For a long time, researchers could only look through ancient Greek and Egyptian texts, as well as accounts from the Bible, to learn about the mysterious Canaanites, but the new evidence seems to suggest that the Bible has made a mistake.
Then again, the contents of the Bible were translated mostly from dead languages so there is a big probability that the translation was either wrong or the meaning of the words have changed over time — the same way that what we consider finite numbers now seemed infinite for ancient people.
Even with the strong connection between ancient Canaanites and modern-day Lebanese, the fact that no "pure" Canaanite individual seems to survive today could be considered as "killing off" the ancestry.
Still the implication of the discovery is huge for modern-day Lebanese, especially since the different religions argue over their ancestry, where Christians and Muslims debate whether they descended from Phoenicians or Arabs. As the DNA evidence suggests, they are actually all Canaanites.
"We all belong to the same people. We have always had a difficult past ... but we have a shared heritage we have to preserve," excavation director Claude Doumet-Serhal said.
The team's findings have been published in The American Journal of Human Genetics.