What Happened to the Canaanites?

DNA study links ancient Canaanites to their modern descendants


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 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

Who Were the Phoenicians?

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on August 9, 2017.


20 Responses

  1. Lion says:

    Caanan was a descendant of Ham and his descendants are Caananites.
    Abram was a descendant of Shem and jouneyed to Caanan, his descents went Egypt and exodet from there to Canan, where they were known as Yisralites
    Japhet was brother to Ham and Shem , all are sons of Noa that came through the Flood.

  2. Lawrence Silverman says:

    There is a problem with all of the articles relating the recent dna analysis of Lebanese and its relevance to the story of the conflict between the ancient Israelitses and Canaanites in the Bible. Ancient Canaan encompassed the whole of the Levant between Asia Minor and Egypt and all the inhabitants called themselves Canaanite (kn’ni). But the Bible story relates only the southern half of Canaan, called “Palestine” by the Greeks but not the natives, where Israel and Judah were located. It has nothing to say about the northern half, called “Phoenicia” by the Greeks but not the natives, which is roughly modern Lebanon. To the extent that it the Bible has anything to say or indicates much knowledge of northern Canaan, its inhabitants are not seen as enemies to be exterminated. On the contrary, the Canaanite ruler of Tyre, Hiram, is an ally of Soloman who helped in the building of the Temple. So the fact that they were not exterminated by the Israelites tells us nothing. More to the point is the genetic evidence that present-day Jews, like present-day Palestinians, are descended from the previous inhabitants of “Palestine” – that is, Canaanites. The “Children of Israel” were in fact Canaanites who for some reason wished to radically differentiate themselves from their own ancestors and did so by calling themselves Hebrews who originated elsewhere and claiming to have been brought out of Egypt by their god, IHWH, and conquered the land he promised them. The Hebrews were most likely themselves Canaanites, but nomadic pastoralists rather than settled farmers or townspeople who regarded them rather as nomadic Gypsies and Travellers are now regarded. It seems likely that this was their way of establishing themselves as a nation, separate from (and superior to) all others, bolstered by their adoption of a new religion profoundly different from that of their Canaanite ancestors.

  3. Jeff says:

    Why is my Sept. 3 comment still “awaiting moderation” on Sept. 5?

  4. Jeff says:

    There are actually people in 2018 who think human races are descended from the sons of Noah?? Come on, this “Arthur” must be an atheist who wrote this post to make religious people look like idiots!

  5. S. Lucy says:

    To make it explicit, those we call Phoenician are identical to those we call Canaanites, we have no real idea what they called themselves.

  6. Arthur Rametsi says:

    Cannanites were not semitic people as your article says. Remember Canaan is the son of Ham, not Shem. Semitic people emanate from the lineage of Shem and not Ham. Canaanites are what we refer to as Hamites. Ham had 4 sons Mizraim (Egyptians), Phut (Lybians), Cush (Ethiopia) and Canaan (Original inhabitants of the land of Israel). The Zondervan Bible Dictionary tells us that Ham was the progenitor of Black people but not the Negros. Therefore all Ham’s lineage is traced through his 4 sons who are all Black people.

    The reason why the Bible Dictionary differentiates between the Hamites and the Negroes is because they are Shemites from the line of Shem. Yes both groups are Black people but with a different progenitor.

    The reason why you find a mixed race of people in Egypt and in all other countries of the sons of Ham today is because one of the policies of Alexandra the Greek after he conquers a country, he would flood that country with his own people, the Romans in order to enforce racial intermingling. I am sure in his mind, he was eradicating the original Black inhabitants of such countries. So that when you look at it independently, you begin to think about this as genocide.

    The Shemites/Hebrews/Israelites eventually took over the land of Canaan. The land of the son of Ham called Canaan. In this case it was one race of black people taking the land of another race of black people. And eventually a race of white people Eastern European Khazars, took over the land of the Shemites and under false pretenses called themselves Shematic/Jewish/Israeli. The reason why they do not call themselves Israelites is because they are not the descendants of Abraham. They just stole that identity from the real Shemites.

  7. Larry Griffith says:

    I’m confused. If they came from Ham, how could they be other then black? Is it being said that the Bible is wrong?

  8. Diana says:

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

  9. 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

    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.

  10. Jacob D says:

    Unfortunately the media’s reaction to this genetic study has been to give the misleading impression that when the Israelites “invaded” Canaan, the Canaanites escaped Israelite “genocide” , and fled to Lebanon, and that the modern Lebanese are the descendants of those Canaanite refugees.
    Nothing could be further from the truth, and it’s a pity the results of this important study have been twisted by the media.

    First, the Canaanite samples were taken from ancient graves in Sidon, which makes them PHOENICIAN, i.e. the northern Canaanites who were native to Phoenicia, in present-day Lebanon.
    Second, as the authors note in the study, they used Lebanese CHRISTIAN DNA samples to represent modern Lebanese population, since they had found this group to be more genetically isolated than other Lebanese groups.
    Third, and in perhaps most critically to the field of Biblical archeology, the authors made the following observation:

    ” PCA shows that Sidon_BA clusters with three individuals from Early Bronze Age Jordan (Jordan_BA) found in a cave above the Neolithic site of ‘Ain Ghazal and probably associated with an Early Bronze Age village close to the site. This suggests that people from the highly differentiated urban culture on the Levant coast and inland people with different modes of subsistence were nevertheless genetically similar, supporting previous reports that the different cultural groups who inhabited the Levant during the Bronze Age, such as the Ammonites, Moabites, Israelites, and Phoenicians, each achieved their own cultural identities but all shared a common genetic and ethnic root with the Canaanites.”

  11. Zach says:

    The traditional history regarding the origins of the Phoenicians as recorded by Herodotus and by Arab historians is that they were descended from people who migrated from the eastern part of the Arabian peninsula. The modern Arab population of the Levant also originates from the Arabian peninsula. So yes they do indeed derive from a “Canaanite-related population” this is the known history. To conclude they this means that they are direct descendants of the Canaanites is disingenuous.

  12. Bones says:

    Genetics shows that the closest group to Middle Eastern Jews are Palestinians…..

    They’re all descendants from the Canaanites.

    Blood Brothers: Palestinians and Jews Share Genetic Roots
    Jews break down into three genetic groups, all of which have Middle Eastern origins – which are shared with the Palestinians and Druze.
    read more:

  13. Stephanie says:

    To S: Israel is the only democratic country that one can walk to from Africa. There is a current constant flow of Africans escaping to Israel today. Also, African connections include the 400 years in Egypt ( North Africa), where they went to escape drought in Canaan, and were eventually enslaved. Another connection to Africa is the story that Moses first went south and his first wife was African. Thirdly there is the Soloman and Queen of Sheba connection, she returned to Ethiopia with Solomon’s child in her belly, and that child was the first king of Ethiopia.

  14. Stephanie says:

    The few Canaanites who survived Joshua assimilated into Israelite society. Today’s Palestinians are descendants of the Ottomans who were Turkish and controlled the area from 1299 to 1923 when British rule took over. this is well documented history.

  15. siphiwo says:

    How are Canaanites connected to Africans?

  16. Phil N says:

    Since Sidon is in Lebanon, one would have to wonder what the DNA is compared to Phoenicians, also a Semitic people. We know that the Jews had friendly relations with Phoenicia and that biblical borders certainly didn’t extend into what is now Lebanon. I believe the authors may have brought the Bible into this report just to get publicity.

  17. Michael says:

    We need to think logically. This study shows a connection between some ancient Canaanites and some modern Lebanese. Does such a connection prove that a neighboring people, the Palestinians, have no familial relationship with the Canaanites? Of course not. We have to be careful not to let our preconceived opinions interfere with our understanding of science.

  18. mervyn.kersh says:

    It would be very interesting to know whether the DNA of the Arabs of Gaza, Judea and Samaria have any relationship to the historic “natives” of those areas such as the Jews.

  19. Herb says:

    The DNA analysis suggests that it is the modern-day Lebanese population that can trace its origins back to the Canaanites. That said, the author’s theory would therefore negate the claims made by the so called political “Palestinians”. Perhaps science trumps false claims!

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