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  Si je rappelle aux miens nos aïeux phéniciens,
C’est qu’alors nous n’étions au fronton de l’histoire,
Avant de devenir musulmans ou chrétiens,
Qu’un même peuple uni dans une même gloire ...
Charles Corm
La montagne inspirée, 1934

La Revue
The Phoenicians Genetic Spread in the Mediterranean
Professor Pierre Zalloua
nov. 2013


Prof. Pierre Zalloua is a professor of genetics at LAU’s school of medicine and an adjunct associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. 

The conference objective was to present the key findings of a genetic study of the Phoenicians supported by a grant from National Geographic's Committee for Research and Exploration. Scientists Wells and Zalloua collected blood samples from men living in the Middle East, North Africa, southern Spain, and Malta, places the Phoenicians are known to have settled and traded. Starting with between 500 and 1,000 well-typed samples, they began looking at the Y chromosome, the piece of DNA that traces a purely male line of descent. The goal was to answer two questions: What was the impact of a group the ancient Egyptians referred to as the Sea Peoples, who apparently arrived in the Levant region about 1200 B.C. just before the Phoenician culture began to flower and expand? And can we use genetics to trace the expansion of the Phoenician empire?

Archeological Context

  • Historical Context
  • Identifying genetic traces of historical expansions
  • The Phoenician DNA print 
  • Conclusion and outlook

Origins and expansion of modern humans

Anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa around 130,000 years ago and in the Middle-East around 90,000 years ago. They were not enormously successful. Modern human behavior starts to develop in Africa since 80,000 years. After a first migration out of Africa, they probably retracted back to Africa until a second more successful expansion occurred 50,000 years ago.  By this epoch, features such as complex tools and long-distance trading are established in Africa.  The two expansions of   fully modern humans occurred in Australia circa 50,000 years ago (Middle Stone Age technology) and in the Middle East circa 47,000 years ago (Upper Paleolithic technology).  During the second expansion, the Levant also was a very probable route for populations toward   the rest of the world. The region also witnessed many important developments such as the Neolithic revolution. The farmers were successful and spread to Europe 
Expansion of first modern humans
Human evolution out of Africa 
Proposed post-LGM migration routes to populating the Levant

Spread of Homo sapiens:

  1. Spread into Eurasia
  2. Differentiation into distinct populations
  3. Human populations expanded their range out of Africa

Routes of migration archeological evidence (Fig. 1)

Two out of Africa routes (Fig. 2)

Expansion: Neolithic Revolution (Fig. 3)

Historical Context  

Civilization appeared in the Middle-East with the invention of writing circa 3500 years B.C. in lower Mesopotamia with the Uruk culture, followed by Sumerian city states. In Egypt the Old Kingdom was founded at the beginning of the third millennium B.C. The history of the Phoenicians begins at the beginning of the first millennium B.C. during the new Egyptian Kingdom. 

Mapping population expansion Using DNA.  

Mapping post-Glacial expansions based on DNA show proposed routes from Anatolia and the Caucasus before and after 9,000  years B.C. (fig. 4)

The Refugia hypothesis

  • Isolated evolution in refugia  followed by post-glacial expansions
  • The greatest diversity in Anatolian and Levantine populations indicate source populations 
  • Distinct and datable expansion routes throughout Anatolia, the Middle East and into Europe

Some Proposed Dates 

A Levantine ancestral component:

  • Diverged from other Middle Easterners  around 23,700-15,500 years ago 
  • Diverged from Europeans around 15,900-9,100 years ago; Post LGM and into the of the Neolithic phase  

Summary 1

  • We propose that the Levant and Middle Eastern modal components diverged post LGM
  • The Levantines and Europeans diverged at the start of the Neolithic period  
  • Recent cultural developments have had a strong impact on population stratifications in the Levant 

Genetic Context:

Identifying genetic traces of historical expansions 
Phoenician footprints

Phoenician  History  1st Millennium BCE

  • Occupied a narrow strip, including the four main Bronze Age maritime cities: Tyre, Sidon, Byblos and Arwad 
  • Named by the Greeks
  • Established a trading empire throughout the Mediterranean and beyond  

The Phoenician/Greek Colonies

Our Approach

Pairs of Sites with similar geographical
Background but different Phoenician influence

The Phoenician maritime route

Specific Phoenician signature compared to Non-Phoenician background 


Six signature haplotypes PCS1+ - PCS6+ exhibit a significant Phoenician signature
The Phoenician genetic signature contributed >6% to the modern male populations examined It means that one in 17 men living in the Mediterranean carried Phoenician genes, indicating that the descendants of the “lost” civilization were alive and well.        

Current Work

With further research it might be possible to refine genetic patterns to reveal phases of the Phoenician expansion over time — “first to Cyprus, then Malta and N. Africa, all the way to Spain.” 
The genes may hold clues to which Phoenician cities — Byblos, Tyre or Sidon — settled which colonies


Dan Platt (IBM), Marc Haber, Michella Sabbagh, Angelique Salloum, Francis Mouzaya 
The Genographic Project (IBM, National Geographic Society, Waitt family foundation)


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