Ancient Phoenician statues

The results are in, and Lebanese are definitely the descendants the ancient Canaanites – known to the Greeks as the Phoenicians.

A study based on DNA analysis published this week, reveals that more than 90 percent of the genetic ancestry of the modern-day Lebanese population comes from the ancient people, commonly known from biblical accounts.

DNA from the remains of Canaanites who were buried about 3,700 years ago in the modern-day city of Saida – historically known as Sidon –was compared to that of 99 modern-day Lebanese residents.

"This is only the tip of the iceberg," Chris Tyler-Smith, a co-author of the study, told National Geographic, saying that more samples and tests in other areas would be conducted to learn more about ancient cultures connections to modern-day populations in the region.

The analysis further reveals that Canaanite DNA comes from a mix of indigenous populations that settled in the region around 10,000 years ago, immigrants that arrived from the East between 6,600 and 3,550 years ago and Eurasian descendants that arrived between 1,800 B.C. and 200 B.C.

In the biblical account, Canaanites are depicted as the arch-rivals of the Israelites. However, many archaeologists question the historical accuracy of these stories, as little evidence has been found to corroborate them.

The evidence does, however, show that the Canaanites appeared around the beginning of the second millennia B.C. They resided throughout what is modern-day Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan and transitioned between being independent city-states and client states of the ancient Egyptians.

While the biblical account says the Israelites conquered the land of Canaan, leaving a wake of massive destruction, no corroborative evidence has been found for this account. Most archaeologists believe that the Israelites arose from within the people of Canaan near the beginning of the Iron Age.

Saida, Sidon, Lebanon
The modern-day city of Saida (formerly Sidon) Source: Flickr

Researchers found it remarkable that thousands of years later, the local population still maintains such a close genetic signature to the ancient people of the Levant.

Despite 4,000 years of conquest, war, and migration, the local population maintains genetics roots firmly linked to the region's ancient residents.

At the same time, the researchers cautioned against drawing too many conclusions based on the DNA analysis. 

"People can be culturally similar and genetically different, or genetically similar and culturally different," Tyler-Smith said.