There are different ways to explore the past. We have some ancient texts. We have dug up pots and the remains of buildings. We even have mummies and other human remains. More recently we have tried to date sites by radio-carbon tests on organic material.
Studies in the human genome give us a new tool. Of course, the major use of this is medical. A British research center called the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is working on genetics as a way to deal with cancer, aging, and even malaria. But they also have done some work relevant to the history of the Levant.
Some human DNA collected from Sidon dated at about 4,000 years ago has allowed them to compare the genetics of ancient Phoenicians and modern Lebanese. They have found a strong link:
They discovered that more than 90% of present-day Lebanese ancestry is likely to be from the Canaanites, with an additional small proportion of ancestry coming from a different Eurasian population.
The team estimates that new Eurasian people mixed with the Canaanite population about 2,200 to 3,800 years ago at a time when there were many conquests of the region from outside.
The analysis of ancient DNA also revealed that the Canaanites themselves were a mixture of local people who settled in farming villages during the Neolithic period and eastern migrants who arrived in the area around 5,000 years ago.
Read the whole report here.
Don’t be confused by the use of Phoenician and Canaanite as interchangeable. Sometimes biblical texts use Canaanite just to mean people who live in Canaan. But after the Israelite settlement, Phoenician and Canaanite usually refer to the same thing.