Biblical Archaeology Review 43:6, November/December 2017

Strata: Canaanites and Egyptians in the Lab

Most scientists assume that modern humans (Homo sapiens) originated in Africa, from where they gradually spread to the other five continents. Since then, human populations have diversified—culturally and genetically. Ingrained in everyone’s DNA, therefore, is our individual genetic history. These days, an array of private companies makes the sophisticated tools accessible to virtually anyone to find out about one’s genetic ancestry.

Advances in science and technologies have lately made it possible to study ancient populations from archaeologically obtained samples. Analysis of ancient DNA (aDNA) can even reveal genetic footprints of human migrations. The biggest challenges of such research lie in the sheer survival of intact genetic information and the successful extraction of that information. In two recent studies, scientists accomplished exactly that, revealing a great deal about two of the most prominent peoples of the Biblical world—the Egyptians and the Canaanites.

A study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics presents a genetic analysis of ancient and modern Lebanese.1 The scientists extracted and “read” aDNA of five Middle Bronze Age II inhabitants of Sidon, a major coastal Canaanite city-state in present-day Lebanon. The results showed that the ancient Canaanites had “derived from [a] mixture between local Neolithic populations and eastern migrants genetically related to Chalcolithic Iranians.” That mixture occurred sometime between 4580 and 1750 B.C.E.

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