Sicilians Have Phoenician DNA
May 6, 2010

(Adapted from a text by Fabio Battistini -Arba Sicula)

We have always known that the ancient Phoenicians were active in Sicily for a long time. The city of Palermo is said to have been founded by the Phoenicians and the western third of the island was for many centuries under the domination of the Carthaginians. And we know that Motia was one of their strong trading posts. So it does not come to us as a surprise that modern day Sicilians should have in their genetic make up traces of the Phoenicians’ presence on the island.

What is surprising is perhaps how widespread that presence is.

According to a study financed by IBM and by National Geographic, one inhabitant of Sicily in 17 has a Y chromosome in his genetic patrimony that derives directly from male Phoenicians. The study was published by the American Journal of Human Genetics by a group of researchers. We share this genetic heritage with other people of the Mediterranean such as the inhabitants of Cyprus, Tunisia and others.

The study was conducted on a pool of about 100 thousand people. “In every classroom,” said Daniel Platt, one of the researchers, “There is at least one boy that we can call a direct descendant of the Phoenicians. We can say this with certainty because the chromosome we studied is passed on from father to son. We used the same procedure a few years ago, to reconstruct the movements of Gengis Khan’s armies.”

Who were these ancient people remains still a mystery. We know that their presence extended to three continents, fifteen countries and seventy cities. Traces of their passing have been found even in Ireland and in Equatorial Guinea. But we only what their contemporaries such as the Assyrians, the Egyptians, and the Persians have said about them. They were apparently very sharp and able merchants, they had a knack for turning a profit sometimes even dishonestly, but they were refined lovers of beautiful things. They appreciated beauty as testified by some of the gold and silver objects that have survived. They left us the alphabet, dyeing of cloth, and the art of decorating.

Recently archeologists have uncovered a number of sites that can shed light on these semitic people who sailed all along the Mediterranean before the Romans called it Mare Nostrum. In Motia recent excavations have discovered a large temple with a large man-made fresh water basin that is unique in Europe. And in Tyre, a city of Lebanon which was one of their bases of commerce, a giant necropolis has been discovered by the University of Barcelona that will provide much information on the Phoenicians. The cemetery was discovered outside the eastern entrance to the city. According to the archeologists, a necropolis of this magnitude can tell us what they ate, how they lived how wealthy they were and what rites they performed, as well as many other of their social and political structures, helping to solve the puzzle that surrounds these ancestors of ours.

Erice, Sicily -first settled by the Phoenicians and called Eryx,
this mystical city was built to honor the Phoenician fertility goddess,
Astarte, later known as Venus to the Romans.