The Canaanites are famous as the bad guys of the Book of Joshua in the Tanakh, or the Hebrew Bible. First, God orders the Hebrews to destroy the Canaanites along with several other groups, and later we hear that the Canaanites have actually been wiped out. Among archaeologists, however, the Canaanites are a cultural group whose rise and fall has remained a mystery. Now, a group of archaeologists and geneticists has discovered strong evidence that the Canaanites were not wiped out. They are, in fact, the ancestors of modern Lebanese people.
The Canaanites were a people who lived three to four thousand years ago off the coast of the Mediterranean, and their cities were spread across an area known today as Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Syria. Though they were one of the first civilizations in the area to use writing, they wrote most of their documents on papyrus leaves that didn’t survive. As a result, our only information about these people has come from their rivals and enemies, like the Hebrews, whose accounts were likely biased.The Canaanites are still hereWellcome Trust Sanger Institute geneticist Marc Haber and his colleagues decided to find out who the Canaanites were by sequencing ancient DNA from five persons whose bodies were found buried in the Canaanite seaside town of Sidon. An ongoing archaeological dig at the site had uncovered the burials of three women and two men who lived roughly 3,700 years ago in the bustling area. After sequencing DNA from all five people, the researchers compared the results with the genomes of 99 modern-day Lebanese people.