In This Article
In This Article
Canaan is best known as the biblical Promised Land of the Israelites.
As the story goes, Yahweh (God) promised the “land flowing with milk and honey” to “descendants of Abraham”—the ancient Israelites.
In the Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible, it was said that God ordered the Israelites to destroy Canaan and its people after their exodus from the Egyptian Empire.
The Book of Joshua even describes how Israelites conquered 31 Canaanite cities.
However, archaeological data suggests this biblical account may not be true. There is no evidence of Canaan being abandoned or destroyed.
While some biblical passages say they were wiped out, a recent study shows that Canaanites live on as modern Arabs and Jews.1,2
Earlier findings also suggest that people from modern Lebanon can trace 90 percent of their ancestry to Canaanites.1
Throughout biblical literature, the term was used to describe the inhabitants of Canaan before it was conquered by the Israelites.2
For ancient Hebrews, the Canaanites were descendants of Canaan, the fourth son of Ham and grandson of Noah.2
Modern-day scholars believe that Canaanites were people that inhabited Southern Levant during the Bronze Age (c. 3500 to 1200 BCE).3
The earliest permanent settlements in Canaan can be traced to the Paleolithic and Mesolithic times. By the Neolithic period, more people started settling in the area.2
Genetic research suggests that Canaanites are a mix of local indigenous people and migrants from Eurasia, Iran, and the Caucasus Mountains.
According to ancient texts, Ancient Greeks believed that Canaanites migrated to The Levant from the East. A study led by Marc Haber proves this to be partly true.1
Haber is a geneticist at the Wellcome Trust’s Sanger Institute in Hinxton. His team extracted DNA from five ancient skeletons identified as Canaanites.
He found out that half of Canaanites’ genes came from local Eurasian farmers who settled in The Levant nearly 10,000 years ago.1
The remaining half of their DNA was linked to an earlier population from Iran. Researchers believe they started mixing with locals from the Levant 5,000 years ago.1
A study led by genetic researcher Liran Carmel shows similar findings. Carmel is a molecular evolutionist from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
His team collected genetic material from the bones of 73 Canaanite individuals. Their remains came from five archaeological excavations in Israel and Jordan.
After analyzing ancient DNA samples, they found that Canaanites descended from a mixture of local Neolithic populations and two migrant groups.4
These migrants included people from the Chalcolithic Age of Iran and the Bronze Age of Caucasus. They came from the northeast region of the ancient Near East (now the modern Middle East).3
The ancient Near East refers to early civilizations in a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and Syria), Anatolia (modern Turkey), the Levant (modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan), as well as Persia (modern Iran), and Ancient Egypt, from the beginnings of
The migrations continued for centuries. As a result, the number of Canaanites with Iranian and Caucasus-related ancestry increased over time.3
Haber believes that modern-day Lebanese are largely descended from the ancient Canaanites. It’s because they inherited 90 percent of their genes.1
Carmel and his team found that most Arabs and Jewish people from Israel and Jordan share 50 percent of their DNA with the Canaanites of the Near East.3
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the modern populations in Lebanon are 90 percent Canaanite or that the Arab and Jewish groups mentioned are half-Canaanites.
A person who shares genetic similarities with Canaanites only suggests they have common ancestors.
Historical and biblical literature defined the Canaan area a bit differently, though it was usually somewhere around modern Palestine.
In the Old Testament and some Phoenecian and Egyptian texts from the 15th century BCE, Canaan was sometimes referred to as:
Archaeological evidence shows that Canaanites inhabited the historical region of Southern Levant.
Canaan now encompasses the whole of present-day Israel, Gaza, Jordan, Palestine, the West Bank, and southern parts of modern-day Lebanon and Syria.