What Happened to the Canaanites?

DNA study links ancient Canaanites to their modern descendants

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What happened to the Canaanites? DNA sequencing was conducted on five skeletons from Canaanite Sidon, including this one. The results indicate that there is a “genetic continuity” between the Canaanites at Sidon and the modern Lebanese. Photo: Courtesy of Claude Doumet-Serhal.

What happened to the Canaanites? For the first time, researchers have conducted DNA sequencing on ancient Canaanite skeletons and have determined where the Canaanites’ descendants can be found today.

The Canaanites were a Semitic-speaking cultural group that lived in Canaan (comprising Lebanon, southern Syria, Israel and Transjordan) beginning in the second millennium B.C.E. and wielded influence throughout the Mediterranean. In the Hebrew Bible, the Canaanites are described as inhabitants of Canaan before the arrival of the Israelites (e.g., Genesis 15:18–21, Exodus 13:11). Little of the Canaanites’ textual records remain, perhaps because they used papyrus instead of the more durable clay for writing. Much of the Canaanites’ history is reconstructed through the writings of contemporary peoples in addition to archaeological examinations of the material record.

Marc Haber, Claude Doumet-Serhal, Christiana Scheib and a team of 13 other scientists recently published their DNA findings in The American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG). The researchers sequenced the genomes of five individuals who were buried in the Canaanite city of Sidon in Lebanon around 1700 B.C.E. as well as the genomes of 99 individuals from Lebanon today.

The results of their study demonstrated a connection: “We show that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, which therefore implies substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age,” wrote the researchers in AJHG.

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A painted limestone figurine of a human-ram deity from Canaanite Sidon appears on the cover of the July/August 2017 issue of BAR. Photo: Courtesy of Claude Doumet-Serhal.

In the July/August 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Claude Doumet-Serhal provides a glimpse of Canaanite Sidon in the Middle Bronze Age:

At the dawn of the second millennium B.C.E., the site was covered by a thick layer of deliberately cleaned sand between 3 and 4.6 feet deep, brought from the nearby seashore. This “purifying” activity must have taken weeks of hard labor. At this point Sidon became a burial site. To date, 142 burials have been found in this sand and in subsequent layers on top of it dating until around 1500 B.C.E. A funerary feasting tradition took place at the time of burial. High-ranking individuals were buried with objects indicating their power, rank and reputation, such as a Minoan cup (1984–1859 B.C.E.) from Phaistos, Crete, which was found inverted, as was the common Aegean practice.

The DNA study conducted on the skeletons from Sidon is part of the researchers’ larger effort to understand population histories in the Levant.

“Many of our inferences rely on the limited number of ancient samples available, and we are only just beginning to reconstruct a genetic history of the Levant or the Near East as thoroughly as that of Europeans who, in comparison, have been extensively sampled,” the researchers wrote in AJHG.
 


 

More on the Canaanites in Bible History Daily:

Biblical Sidon—Jezebel’s Hometown

First Person: Banning Ba’al

Canaanite Fortress Discovered in the City of David

Hazor Excavations’ Amnon Ben-Tor Reveals Who Conquered Biblical Canaanites

Canaanite Worship? 3,400-Year-Old Figurine Found at Tel Rehov
 


 

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  • diana says

    I have also read that the Canaanites were black. DNA results would certainly have indicated that.

  • Wes says

    Someone above asked, “How are Canaanites connected to Africans?”

    Probably many way if there is a shared heritage between residents of Sidon (and Tyre) and the overseas colonies these cities established and the people of
    Canaan.

    Carthage, for example, was a Phoenician colony. Hiram of Tyre was a contemporary of Solomon, but the Carthage located in present day Tunisia probably was founded after the 10th century BC. Moreover, it’s not the only Phoenician colony that was established in the western Mediterranean. A number of them, such as Cartagena in Spain were founded by Phoenicians or else became colonies of Carthage. Marseille,( I just thought I’d check first) as it turns out was founded by Greeks in the 7th century BC.

    Analogous to England and its New World colonies, Carthage expanded on the
    north coast of Africa into a number of coastal settlements, plus southern Spain.
    We know little ( or else little survives) about the Carthaginians save through the eyes of Roman historians such as Livy an Polybius who chronicled the Punic Wars and their roots. But the bottom line from the wikipedia was this:

    “The Carthaginians were Phoenician settlers originating in the Mediterranean coast of the Near East. They spoke Canaanite, a Semitic language, and followed a local variety of the ancient Canaanite religion.”

    Having recently read an account of the Battle of Cannae, Carthaginian names
    drives the point home: Hannibal, Hamilcar, Hasdrubal, Hanno… Contemplating the issue of links even closer to the Bible, such as Hebrew, I was inclined to ask myself: Just what does that prefix “Ha” denote?

    Evidently it is not a definite article. Hannibal roughly means “the grace of Baal”.
    But the Barca family ( Note: Barcelona – possibly named by Hamilcar, but Romans claim differently) can be connected with other East Mediterranean root languages, for example, as follows:

    “Barca (, QRB) was the surname of his aristocratic family, meaning “shining” or “lightning”, thus equivalent to the Arabic name Barq or the Hebrew name Barak.

    Hamilcar, Hannibal’s father: his name is a reference to someone else too, “brother of Melqart”.

    Paradoxically, we have an one side an argument for the stability for gene pools in the Mediterranean East based on population studies in Lebanon. But on the other hand, we have linguistic evidence for dispersion based on establishment of colonies in west on the coasts of Africa and Europe.

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