Ancient DNA Reveals That Phoenician Man From Carthage Had European Ancestry

Posted: May 28 2016, 12:38am CDT | by , Updated: May 28 2016, 9:27pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Ancient DNA Reveals that Phoenician Man From Carthage had European Ancestry
Young Man of Byrsa. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The analysis of the first complete DNA obtained from a 2500-year-old Pheonician points to European ancestors.

The first ever complete Phoenician DNA holds some great surprises. The genome which was obtained from a 2500-year-old Phoenician man shows that he had a European ancestry. 

An international team of researchers has sequenced the mitochondrial genome of an ancient Phoenician dubbed “Young Man of Byrsa” or “Ariche” whose tomb was discovered in Carthage, Tunisia in 1994. The skeleton suggested that the man died young between the age of 19 and 24 and was about 7 feet 6 inches tall.

Recent DNA reveals that he belonged to a rare European genetic group existing in the mountainous region linked to Spain and Portugal. The finding also marks the earliest evidence of the presence of European DNA in North Africa, indicating that the group arrived in the region around 6th century BC.

“U5b2c1 is considered to be one of the most ancient haplogroups in Europe and is associated with hunter-gatherer populations there. It is remarkably rare in modern populations today, found in Europe at levels of less than one per cent,” said co researcher Lisa Matisoo-Smith from University of Otago. “Interestingly, our analysis showed that Ariche’s mitochondrial genetic makeup most closely matches that of the sequence of a particular modern day individual from Portugal.”

Phoenician was an ancient civilization that was thought to live in the cities along the coastline of what is now Lebanon but their impact was prevailing across the Mediterranean and Iberian Peninsula. The Phoenicians were highly regarded for their ship-building skills and maritime trading.  The ancient city of Carthage was also established by Phoenicians for trading purposes and it actually turned out to be a great trade center in later years. Previous researches suggested that mtdna U5b2c1 was also found in two ancient hunter gatherers recovered in north-western Spain. 

“While a wave of farming peoples from the Near East replaced these hunter-gatherers, some of their lineages persisted longer in the far south of the Iberian Peninsula and on off-shore islands and were then transported to the melting pot of Carthage in North Africa via Phoenician and Punic trade networks,” said Matisoo-Smith.

“However, we still know little about the Phoenicians themselves, except for the likely biased accounts by their Roman and Greek rivals – hopefully our findings and other continuing research will cast further light on the origins and impact of Phoenician peoples and their culture.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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