In the Old Testament, a passage in Deuteronomy says God ordered the Israelites to “destroy” the Canaanites when he said: “You shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them.”
But it appears the Canaanites were not wiped out at all.
Experts extracted the DNA from the 3,700 year old remains of five people in the ancient Canaanite city of Sidon.
The paper, published in the journal American Journal of Human Genetics, read: “The Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people; if true, the Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations.
“However, no archaeological evidence has so far been found to support widespread destruction of Canaanite cities between the Bronze and Iron Ages: cities on the Levant coast such as Sidon and Tyre show continuity of occupation until the present day.
Dr Marc Haber, of The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: “The present-day Lebanese are likely to be direct descendants of the Canaanites, but they have in addition a small proportion of Eurasian ancestry that may have arrived via conquests by distant populations such as the Assyrians, Persians, or Macedonians.”
Dr Claude Doumet-Serhal, a co-author of the paper, said: “For the first time we have genetic evidence for substantial continuity in the region, from the Bronze Age Canaanite population through to the present day.
“These results agree with the continuity seen by archaeologists. Collaborations between archaeologists and geneticists greatly enrich both fields of study and can answer questions about ancestry in ways that experts in neither field can answer alone.”