This letter is a call for DNA testing on ancient skeletal materials from the southern Levant to begin a database of genetic information of the inhabitants of this crossroads region. In this region, during the Iron I period traditionally dated to circa 1200-1000 BCE, archaeologists and biblical historians view the earliest presence of a group that called itself Israel. They lived in villages in the varied hill countries of the region, contemporary with urban settlements in the coastal plains, inland valleys, and central hill country attributed to varied indigenous groups collectively called Canaanite. The remnants of Egyptian imperial presence in the region lasted until around 1150 BCE, postdating the arrival of an immigrant group from the Aegean called the Philistines circa 1175 BCE. The period that follows in the southern Levant is marked by the development of territorial states throughout the region, circa 1000-800 BCE. These patrimonial kingdoms, including the United Kingdom of Israel and the divided kingdoms of northern Israel and Judah, coalesced varied peoples under central leadership and newly founded administrative and religious bureaucracies. Ancient DNA testing will give us a further refined understanding of the individuals who peopled the region of the southern Levant throughout its varied archaeological and historic periods and provide scientific data that will support, refute, or nuance our sociohistoric reconstruction of ancient group identities. These social identities may or may not map onto genetic data, but without sampling of ancient DNA we may never know. A database of ancient DNA will also allow for comparisons with modern DNA samples collected throughout the greater region and the Mediterranean littoral, giving a more robust understanding of the long historical trajectories of regional human genetics and the genetics of varied ancestral groups of today's Jewish populations and other cultural groups in the modern Middle East and Mediterranean.
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Vol. 85 • No. 6