In the Old Testament Bible, God commands the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites, a group of people who lived in what are now Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. They were ordered to slaughter all of them, not leaving anyone, even children, alive. According to the ancient text, the Israelites complied with these commands wiped out the Canaanites in a massive act of genocide. However, no archaeological evidence has ever been found to support this story. The cities where the Canaanites lived show no evidence of destruction. Instead, there is evidence of continual occupation even up to the present day. And recently, DNA evidence has come to light that further refutes the claim that these people were destroyed.
Scientists were able to extract DNA from the skeletal remains of five people buried in the former Canaanite city of Sidon. These remains were dated to 3,700 years ago, before the supposed genocide occurred. From this DNA, the researchers were able to sequence their entire genome.
Following the sequencing, they compared their genome to a group of modern Lebanese people. Surprisingly, these modern humans were found to have inherited roughly 93% of their DNA from these ancient Canaanites. There has thus been a great deal of genetic continuity in this area since the Bronze Age, or maybe even earlier. This means that the Biblical tale cannot be entirely true. Had all of the Canaanites been massacred, they could not have passed their DNA down to anyone.
Based on the study of the Canaanite DNA, the scientists were also able to learn about the origins of this ancient people. It is now believed this group mixed with other Near Eastern groups starting around 4500 BCE. They then made their way to the Levant region of the Middle East between 2100 and 3800 years ago. Sometime between the Bronze Age and the present-day, these people then mixed with various Eurasian groups, who also contributed to the genetic makeup of modern-day Lebanese people.
This is an exciting finding for scholars of history because not much is known about the Canaanites. Any written records they kept did not survive, possibly because they were written on papyrus. About 160 other burials have been found on the site where the studied remains were excavated. Researchers hope they can continue to learn more about this ancient society.