A study reveals the Lebanese DNA of the Phoenicians of Ibiza

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DNA migration to Ibiza and Lebanon
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"The Ibizans were more Lebanese than the Lebanese themselves"

A study reveals the Lebanese DNA of the Phoenicians of Ibiza and Phoenician distribution in the Mediterranean, including analysis of Ibizan Punic DNA
By José Miguel L. Romero, Ibiza

Reproduced without permission from
the original Spanish in DIARIO de Ibiza
Translated to English by Salim G. Khalaf, Phoenicia.org

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"The Ibizans were more Lebanese than the Lebanese themselves"

The Ibizan Phoenicians were more Lebanese than the Canaanites themselves, while the citizens of Tyre or Sidon possessed in their genes more European traces than those of the Balearic islands themselves. It is one of the most surprising results obtained from the analysis of the DNA of the inhabitants of that civilization. This is what the Lebanese biologist, Pierre Zalloua said in a talk in the Museum of the Necroplis of Puig des Molins, in Ibiza, Spain.

  Dr. Pierre Zalloua  
  Pierre Zalloua during the conference
at the Museum of the Necropolis.

"No, it is not a joke," although it seems so. The end of the conference 'Mitochondrial genomes of the ancient Phoenicians,' given on Friday in Eivissa by biologist Pierre Zalloua of the American University of Lebanon. What was incredible was that in the DNA sequences of the Phoenicians people of Ibiza have found to have more eastern traces than expected. Traces identified were more than those found in the Lebanese Phoenicians themselves. But, in addition, in the genome of the Lebanese they have detected more European traces of what was expected in principle. They are even more than those found in the old Balearic island people. It seems that the world was changed upside down. Is not it a heavy joke, as if someone moved the graves or maybe there was an error in the analysis? "No, it's not a joke," Zalloua said at the end of his talk. He smiled for having accomplished his purpose while his audience were disconcerted. They filled the meeting room of the Museum of the Necroplis of Puig des Molins.

The conclusion of the study, which was carried out after analyzing Punic skeletal remains of the Eivissa tombs, is difficult to assimilate, even for the researchers themselves. The samples from Ibiza have little to do with those of Bronze Age Europe, "but they are more close to those of the Neolithic Levant. "The Ibizan Phoenicians look like Lebanese!" Exclaimed Zalloua. On the contrary, "the analyzed samples of the Phoenician tombs of Beirut are very similar to those of the ancient European populations of the late Neolithic." In the genetic map, the Ibizian DNA appears mapped where the Lebanese should be, and vice versa. It is as if the map of the Mediterranean had folded, so that Lebanon appeared on its western coast, and Eivissa between Syria and Israel.

Underestimated Migratory Flow

Now, in addition to digesting this information, finding an explanation is not easy. "It is difficult to explain," says the Lebanese biologist: "Perhaps," he continues, "we have underestimated the frequency of people's movement at that time." That could be the key: that in those times there would be more migratory flows than we imagined and that the borders would fluid than the current ones. The world of such genetic analyzes resembles that described in 'Sinuhé the Egyptian' or 'the African Lion,' rather than that of modern civilization, whose borders were increasingly hard to cross. In his view, "it is difficult to understand why there was then so much movement of population."

"We are at the beginning of this research," says the Lebanese researcher, who specializes in genetic links between populations in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Research on this subject could be decisive and is being developed with the Phoenician DNA of Cadiz and Malta.

For the study, they chose to analyze mitochondrial DNA (in which only the genetic information of the mother appears is studied). It is more abundant and easier to obtain than the nucleus (in this case, father and mother). In the case of Eivissa (also investigated in Sardinia and Beirut) 11 samples were collected from four Punic sites. This is so because obtaining eight sequences with three cases DNA "was not of sufficient quality." Only in one of the samples, in the extracted from the deposit of Can Portes of Jurat, they obtained mitochondrial as well as nucleus DNA. Zalloua clarified that the remains analyzed belonged to Punic and not the first Phoenicians who arrived in Eivissa — as the latter burned their dead, so getting their DNA was mission impossible.

According to Elisa A. Matisoo-Smith, Professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of Otago (New Zealand), who is part of the research team of this project and was present at the talk, concluded. The results of mitochondrial DNA studied "imply that men from the East — from the narrow fringe of present-day Lebanon in which the Phoenicians lived — intermarried with the local Ibizan women, just as in Sardinia. " Further, she believes the same thing happened in the opposite direction when Europeans intermarried with the Lebanese.

This, according to Zalloua, shows a society more concerned with integration than with conquest and slavery. This means to say that "The Phoenicians had an inclusive, multicultural nature."

He did not want to give many clues, but Pierre Zalloua left in the air the suspicion that there may be more surprises coming soon. For example, the result from the study of the haplogroup (set of haplotypes, which are sets of DNA variations) T2b, found in one of the 18 samples taken from Ibizans today. The 18 were different, but one of them contained that T2b. It is something surprising because, according to the biologist, it was also found in the genetic sample extracted from a Punic in the deposit of Can Portes of Jurat. Similarly that same haplogroup has been detected in the Phoenicians in Lebanon: "The existence of the T2b haplogroup calls our attention," said Zalloua with a hoarse smile, as if he knew that he would soon bewilder us.

By José Miguel L. Romero, DIARIO de Ibiza, Ibiza
Translated to English by Salim G. Khalaf, Phoenicia.Org

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