DNA of Ancient Phoenician Could Make Us Reconsider History of Human Migration

SCIENCE

A rare genome has been identified in an ancient body pulled from a sarcophagus on a site near ancient Carthage, in a discovery which could throw new light on the history of human movement. (Independent)

Who were the Phoenicians? Read our outstanding article to find out.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

The Roman author and historian Pliny the Elder attributes the invention of glass to the Phoenicians. This gorgeous Phoenician glasswork (probably a pendant or a necklace) was uncovered at an ancient necropolis at Carthage, Tunisia, in 1901. Photograph courtesy Louvre/RMN. CC-BY-NC-4.0

The Roman author and historian Pliny the Elder attributes the invention of glass to the Phoenicians. This gorgeous Phoenician glasswork (probably a pendant or a necklace) was uncovered at an ancient necropolis at Carthage, Tunisia, in 1901.
Photograph courtesy Louvre/RMN. CC-BY-NC-4.0

Discussion Ideas

  • Researchers recently sequenced the genome of the “Young Man of Byrsa,” thought to be a Phoenician. Who were the Phoenicians? Read through our great article for some help.
    • Good question! Relatively little is known about these “ancient rulers of the Mediterranean.”
    • The Phoenicians were a seafaring Mediterranean people who dominated trade between about 1550 BCE and 300 BCE, when their civilization was overtaken by the Persians and the Greeks.
    • The Phoenicians are primarily remembered as adept sailors and cunning merchants. They used their strategic position at the crossroads of eastern and western cultures to build a trading empire that extended from the Fertile Crescent in the east, through the islands of the Mediterranean Sea, and as far west as the Iberian Peninsula and the Atlantic Ocean.
    • Fun fact: The Phoenician alphabet is the oldest alphabet yet identified. Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, and Greek scripts are all descended from Phoenician.

 

  • The article and research paper identify the genome as Phoenician, but describe the Young Man of Byrsa as being discovered in a Punic, not Phoenician, burial crypt. Who were the Punics?

 

  • The center of Phoenician culture was the city-state of Tyre, in what is now Lebanon. If the Phoenicians were based in the eastern Mediterranean, why does most information about the Phoenicians come from shipwrecks and deserted sites in North Africa?
    • Good reason: People are still living there. “The main Phoenician coastal cities, Tyre, Sidon, Byblos and Arwad, are located in what is now Lebanon and southern Syria. These cities have been continuously occupied for thousands of years, and as a result are rarely subjected to major archaeological excavations.”

 

 

  • What is so unexpected about the Phoenician genome?
    • It isn’t African. Although the Young Man of Byrsa was from the area around Carthage, his genome is much more closely related to Europeans from Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, Scotland, the United States and Germany. (Yes, we know the United States isn’t in Europe, but we have a lot of people with European ancestry here.)
    • His genome sequence, U5b2c1, is almost unknown among modern populations. Only one person (from Portugal) shares the whole genome.

 

Phoenicia itself was a relatively small area centered around the coastal city of Tyre, in modern-day Lebanon. However, the Phoenician trading network extended from the Fertile Crescent in the east, through the islands of the Mediterranean, and as far as the British Isles in the west. Map by Yom, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

Phoenicia itself was a relatively small area centered around the coastal city of Tyre, in modern-day Lebanon. However, the Phoenician trading network extended from the Fertile Crescent in the east, through the islands of the Mediterranean, and as far as the British Isles in the west.
Map by Yom, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

  • What does the U5b2c1 genome sequence tell us about ancient Phoenician trade networks?
    • They were really impressive! The core of Phoenician territory was the far eastern Mediterranean, in what is today Lebanon. However, the genome indicates trade with far western Europe. This supports ancient accounts of Phoenicians from sources such as the Greek historian Herodotus.

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Independent: DNA of ancient Phonecian could make us reconsider history of human migration

Nat Geo: First Rulers of the Mediterranean

(extra credit!) PLoS One: A European Mitochondrial Haplotype Identified in Ancient Phoenician Remains from Carthage, North Africa

4 responses to “DNA of Ancient Phoenician Could Make Us Reconsider History of Human Migration

  1. Phonecians were more related to ancient berbers , moors, mauri, etc they were canannites, or ken’ani. The truth is carthage was a mixed city, but to imply that phonecians were european is very wrong. They were a brown toned people much like the true indigenous american, the egytian, the druid etc. A light brown to a dark brown complexion but not sub saharan african. Danan marniche already put these things to rest.

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  2. Pingback: What Did You Read in 2017? | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  3. Pingback: DNA of Ancient Phoenician Could Make Us Reconsider History of Human Migration — Nat Geo Education Blog – Welcome to the World of Ekasringa Avatar!·

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