6,500-Year-Old DNA Points to Ancient Migration

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These burial urns (ossuaries) from Peqi’in Cave in Israel are evidence of ancient migration in the Levant, researchers say. Scale bar: 10 cm. Photo Mariana Salzberger, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Around 6,500 years ago, humans migrated from modern-day Turkey and the Zagros mountains of Iran to Israel’s Upper Galilee region, helping to introduce cultural changes in the southern Levant during the Late Chalcolithic period. So says a new DNA study recently published in Nature Communications by researchers from Tel Aviv University (TAU), the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and Harvard University. In one of the largest DNA studies carried out in the ancient Near East, the researchers conducted whole-genome analysis on 22 skeletons from Peqi’in Cave in northern Israel.

Excavated in 1995, Peqi’in Cave revealed Late Chalcolithic burials of about 600 individuals in some 200 ossuaries as well as scores of grave goods.

In “Death in Peqi’in” in the Fall 1998 issue of Archaeology Odyssey, archaeologists Zvi Gal, Howard Smithline, and Dina Shalem describe their discovery at Peqi’in Cave. The excavation was conducted on behalf of the IAA with the assistance of the Peqi’in Local Council:

Among the thousands of bones in this stalagmite cave lay elaborately molded ossuaries, anthropomorphic sculptures, elegant ceremonial bowls and an ivory figurine. The Peqi’in cache includes artworks reflecting the styles of several different subcultures in Chalcolithic Palestine once thought to have existed in relative isolation from one another.

The abundant, well-preserved evidence in Peqi’in Cave offered researchers a chance to study Chalcolithic peoples and their material culture.

As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.

According to the study published in Nature Communications, the humans buried in Peqi’in Cave “were part of a homogeneous population that can be modeled as deriving ~57% of its ancestry from groups related to those of the local Levant Neolithic, ~17% from groups related to those of the Iran Chalcolithic, and ~26% from groups related to those of the Anatolian Neolithic.”

“The study resolves a long debate about the origin of the unique culture of the Chalcolithic people,” explained Dr. Dina Shalem, one of the co-authors of the study, in a TAU press release. “Did the cultural change in the region follow waves of migration, the infiltration of ideas due to trade relations, and/or cultural exchange, or [was Chalcolithic culture a] local invention? We now know that the answer is migration.”

“The genetic analysis provided an answer to the central question we set out to address,” said co-author Dr. David Reich. “It showed that the Peqi’in people had substantial ancestry from northerners—similar to those living in Iran and Turkey—that was not present in earlier Levantine farmers.”

Read the study in Nature Communications.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

What Happened to the Canaanites?
DNA study links ancient Canaanites to their modern descendants

Digs 2018: Migration and Immigration in Ancient Israel

Journey to the Copper Age: A Video Lecture by Thomas E. Levy

Oldest Metal Object from the Southern Levant Discovered


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  • Wes says

    Well with regard to Turkey and the ark, that’s an interesting idea, but not one that traditional literal interpreters would have latched on to. 6500 years ago would be about 4500 BC. Biblical scholars of centuries ago used to estimate that the text pointed to the events of Genesis as in the Garden of Eden to that millenium.

    As for myself, I would be inclined to take the data as it stood: that migrating peoples from elsewhere (e.g., the Zagros mountains, eastern Turkey, the Caucasian mountanits…) and settled in the valleys of present day Israel, Jordan and elsewhere.

    Other archeological data such as pottery, camp sites, cave drawings, DNA
    evidence and carbon dating indicate a world wide history/ prehistory that goes much farther back than that

  • Helen says

    Migrated fm Turkey…abt the same time as Noah came out of the ark in Turkey.

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