The modern-day Lebanese are descendants of the ancient, biblical Canaanites, a new genetic study has found.
In the study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, scientists extracted DNA from five people buried in the ancient city of Sidon 3,700 years ago and sequence their entire genomes.
The study found that the Canaanites’ genetic material was 93 per cent similar to that of 99 modern Lebanese people. The discovery is remarkable, not least because the region was conquered several times.
The other 7 per cent of modern Lebanese DNA originates from eastern Steppe peoples (modern-day Russia).
The Bronze Age inhabitants of Sidon, a major Canaanite city-state in modern-day Lebanon, have the same genetic profile as people living 300 to 800 years earlier in present-day Jordan, the study also found.
The authors said that evidence supports the idea that different Levantine cultural groups such as the Moabites, Israelites, and Phoenicians may have had a common genetic background.
They also established that the genetic mixing of the Levantine and Iranian nations happened between 6,600 and 3,550 years ago.
Archaeologists working at Sidon have been seeking for 19 years to unearth information about the ancient Lebanese city that is still inhabited to this day. To date, the team has found 106 Canaanite burials, with children buried in jars, and adults in sand.
Researcher Dr Marc Haber of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute said: ‘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.’
He added that he was ‘pleasantly surprised’ that they had been able to analyse DNA from 4,000 year old human remains buried in a hot and humid climate.
Co-author Dr Claude Doumet-Serhal, the director of the Sidon excavation said: ‘For the first time we have genetic evidence for substantial continuity in the region, from the Bronze Age Canaanite population through to the present day.
‘These results agree with the continuity seen by archaeologists. Collaborations between archaeologists and geneticists greatly enrich both fields of study and can answer questions about ancestry in ways that experts in neither field can answer alone.