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Sarcophagus of Canaanites, now at Israel Museum   Source: Davidbena / CC BY-SA 4.0

Canaanite Genomes Reveal Truth About Their Descendants

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The people who lived in the area known as the Southern Levant - which is now recognized as Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Syria - during the Bronze Age (circa 3500-1150 BC) are referred to in ancient biblical texts as the Canaanites. Now, researchers reporting in the journal  Cell on May 28 have new insight into the Canaanites' history based on a new genome-wide analysis of ancient DNA collected from 73 individuals.

"Populations in the Southern Levant during the Bronze Age were not static," says Liran Carmel of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "Rather, we observe evidence for the movement of people over long periods of time from the northeast of the Ancient Near East , including modern Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, into the Southern Levant region.

Shared Genes, Shared Culture

"The Canaanites, albeit living in different city-states, were culturally and genetically similar," he adds. "In addition, this region has witnessed many later population movements, with people coming from the northeast, from the south, and from the northwest."

Carmel and colleagues came to these conclusions based on an analysis of 73 new ancient DNA samples representing mainly Middle-to-Late Bronze Age individuals from five archaeological sites across the Southern Levant. To these new data, the researchers added previously reported data from 20 individuals from four sites to generate a dataset of 93 individuals. The genomic analysis showed that the Canaanites do represent a clear group.

"Individuals from all sites are highly genetically similar, albeit with subtle differences, showing that the archaeologically and historically defined 'Canaanites' corresponds to a demographically coherent group," Carmel says.

This image shows a general view of the Tel Megiddo site. (Image: Courtesy of the Megiddo Expedition / Cell)

This image shows a general view of the Tel Megiddo site. (Image: Courtesy of the Megiddo Expedition / Cell)

The data suggest that the Canaanites descended from a mixture of earlier local Neolithic populations and populations related to Chalcolithic Iran and/or the Bronze Age Caucasus. The researchers documented a significant increase in the proportion of Iranian/Caucasus-related ancestry over time, which is supported by three individuals who are descendants of recent arrivals from the Caucasus.

"The strength of the migration from the northeast of the Ancient Near East, and the fact that this migration continued for many centuries, may help to explain why rulers of city-states in Canaan in the Late Bronze Age carry non-Semitic, Hurrian names," says Shai Carmi of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "There were strong and active connections between these regions through movements of people that help to understand the shared elements of culture."

This image shows the area of the Tel Megiddo site supplied most of the samples for the aDNA study. (Image: Courtesy of the Megiddo Expedition / Cell)

This image shows the area of the Tel Megiddo site supplied most of the samples for the aDNA study. (Image: Courtesy of the Megiddo Expedition / Cell)

Canaanite Genomes and Modern Populations

The researchers also studied the relationship of the Canaanites to modern-day populations. While the direct contribution of the Canaanites to modern populations cannot be accurately quantified, the data suggest that a broader Near Eastern component, including populations from the Caucasus and the Zagros Mountains , likely account for more than 50 percent of the ancestry of many Arabic-speaking and Jewish groups living in the region today.

Carmel reports that they are now working to extend their sampling, both geographically and over time. "We wish to analyze Iron Age samples from different areas of the southern Levant," Carmel says. "This may shed light on the composition of the populations in the biblically mentioned kingdoms of the region, among them Israel, Judah, Ammon, and Moab."

This work was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF), the Dan David Foundation, the Shmunis Family Foundation, Mark Weismann and Vivian and Norman Belmonte. This work was an equal collaboration with the laboratory of David Reich at Harvard University. DR's work was supported by the Allen Discovery Center, John Templeton Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, The National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.

Top image: Sarcophagus of Canaanites, now at Israel Museum   Source: Davidbena / CC BY-SA 4.0

The article, originally titled, "Who were the Canaanites? New insight from 73 ancient genomes."  was first published on Science Daily.

Source: Cell Press. "Who were the Canaanites? New insight from 73 ancient genomes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 May 2020. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200528115829.htm

References

Lily Agranat-Tamir, Shamam Waldman, Mario A.S. Martin, David Gokhman, Nadav Mishol, Tzilla Eshel, Olivia Cheronet, Nadin Rohland, Swapan Mallick, Nicole Adamski, Ann Marie Lawson, Matthew Mah, Megan Michel, Jonas Oppenheimer, Kristin Stewardson, Francesca Candilio, Denise Keating, Beatriz Gamarra, Shay Tzur, Mario Novak, Rachel Kalisher, Shlomit Bechar, Vered Eshed, Douglas J. Kennett, Marina Faerman, Naama Yahalom-Mack, Janet M. Monge, Yehuda Govrin, Yigal Erel, Benjamin Yakir, Ron Pinhasi, Shai Carmi, Israel Finkelstein, Liran Carmel, David Reich.  The Genomic History of the Bronze Age Southern Levant Cell, 2020; 181 (5): 1146 DOI:  10.1016/j.cell.2020.04.024

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