Date Published: August 03, 2017
Author(s): Marc Haber, Claude Doumet-Serhal, Christiana Scheib, Yali Xue, Petr Danecek, Massimo Mezzavilla, Sonia Youhanna, Rui Martiniano, Javier Prado-Martinez, Michał Szpak, Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith, Holger Schutkowski, Richard Mikulski, Pierre Zalloua, Toomas Kivisild, Chris Tyler-Smith.
The Canaanites inhabited the Levant region during the Bronze Age and established a culture that became influential in the Near East and beyond. However, the Canaanites, unlike most other ancient Near Easterners of this period, left few surviving textual records and thus their origin and relationship to ancient and present-day populations remain unclear. In this study, we sequenced five whole genomes from ∼3,700-year-old individuals from the city of Sidon, a major Canaanite city-state on the Eastern Mediterranean coast. We also sequenced the genomes of 99 individuals from present-day Lebanon to catalog modern Levantine genetic diversity. We find that a Bronze Age Canaanite-related ancestry was widespread in the region, shared among urban populations inhabiting the coast (Sidon) and inland populations (Jordan) who likely lived in farming societies or were pastoral nomads. This Canaanite-related ancestry derived from mixture between local Neolithic populations and eastern migrants genetically related to Chalcolithic Iranians. We estimate, using linkage-disequilibrium decay patterns, that admixture occurred 6,600–3,550 years ago, coinciding with recorded massive population movements in Mesopotamia during the mid-Holocene. We show that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, which therefore implies substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age. In addition, we find Eurasian ancestry in the Lebanese not present in Bronze Age or earlier Levantines. We estimate that this Eurasian ancestry arrived in the Levant around 3,750–2,170 years ago during a period of successive conquests by distant populations.
The Near East, including the Levant, has been central to human prehistory and history from the expansion out of Africa 50–60 thousand years ago (kya),1 through post-glacial expansions2 and the Neolithic transition 10 kya, to the historical period when Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, and many others left their impact on the region.3 Aspects of the genetic history of the Levant have been inferred from present-day DNA,4, 5 but the more comprehensive analyses performed in Europe6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 have shown the limitations of relying on present-day information alone and highlighted the power of ancient DNA (aDNA) for addressing questions about population histories.12 Unfortunately, although the few aDNA results from the Levant available so far are sufficient to reveal how much its history differs from that of Europe,13 more work is needed to establish a thorough understanding of Levantine genetic history. Such work is hindered by the hot and sometimes wet environment,12, 13 but improved aDNA technologies including use of the petrous bone as a source of DNA14 and the rich archaeological remains available encouraged us to further explore the potential of aDNA in this region. Here, we present genome sequences from five Bronze Age Lebanese samples and show how they improve our understanding of the Levant’s history over the last five millennia.