Canaanites—one of the original populations in ancient Israel—are still a coherent genetic group thousands of years later

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Credit: Wikimedia

A new international, interdisciplinary study provides intriguing answers to the origins and history of the Canaanite people. In an article published May 28 in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Cell, scientists report that over thousands of years, the widely dispersed Canaanite people maintained themselves as a demographically coherent group.

The study was performed through a genome-wide analysis of ancient DNA samples from the remains of 93 individuals at nine Bronze Age Canaanite sites throughout the Levant.

For centuries, scholars have debated over who the Canaanites were and where they originated. Ancient “frenemies” of the conquering Israelites, the Canaanites were recorded throughout the Bible and in historical documents up to 3,500 years old as a group of peoples living throughout the Levant who were ruled by their own city/state kings.

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The study also discovered that they shared a genetic relationship with another group of people who slowly and continuously migrated from the far-away Caucausus and/or Zagros Mountain regions. This special genetic mix of Canaanite and mountain peoples can still be seen in some form with modern Arabic-speaking and Jewish populations, wrote the authors.

“Our results in this new study show that the ‘Canaanite’ term that is known from the archaeological and historical literature in fact corresponded to a genetically mostly homogeneous group of people — it was not just a shared set of ideas, but a people of similar ancestry,” [said] Harvard University Ancient Genetics Prof. David Reich.

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