Study finds Jews and Arabs share genetic heritage of Bronze Age Canaanites

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Study finds Jews and Arabs share genetic heritage of Bronze Age Canaanites

Team from Hebrew University in Jerusalem submit findings after studying the DNA of bones from 73 individuals found at ancient sites across Israel and Jordan

Sarcophagus of Canaanites featured in the Israel Museum (Wikipedia/ Author: Davidbena /Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Sarcophagus of Canaanites featured in the Israel Museum (Wikipedia/ Author: Davidbena /Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

A major new study has shown how modern-day Jews and Arabs retain the genetic heritage of Bronze Age Canaanites who lived in the land today known as Israel for more than 2,000 years.

Reporting their results in the scientific journal Cell, the team from Hebrew University in Jerusalem submitted their findings after studying the DNA from bones of 73 individuals found at five Canaanite sites across Israel and Jordan, then comparing them to 20 from four other sites, which had already been studied.

The Canaanites’ own heritage can be traced to migrants from the Caucasus Mountains who combined with the local population and ruled an area from Egypt to Iraq from 3,500BC to 1,200BC, when they were finally defeated by the Israelites.

Little is known about the Canaanites, who lived across a huge area, but Hebrew University’s Liran Carmel said all those studied were “highly genetically similar,” meaning that they shared genes as well as a common culture.

The researchers, who worked with Harvard geneticist David Reich, compared the ancient DNA with that of modern populations and found that most Arab and Jewish groups in the region owe most of their DNA to Canaanites and others.

A British study from 2017 had already shown that today’s Lebanese can trace more than 90 percent of their genetic ancestry to Canaanites, who were known to have been an advanced people, developing great cities as long as 4,500 years ago.

Despite scientists simply seeking to fill their knowledge gaps, the issue of heritage across Israel and the Palestinian territories continues to be politicised, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last year declaring: “We are the Canaanites. This land is for its people…who were here 5,000 years ago.”

Likewise Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recently that the ancestors of today’s Palestinians “came from the Arabian peninsula to the Land of Israel thousands of years” after the Israelites.

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