When Ancient DNA Gets Politicized
by Megan Gannon Smithsonian.com
With a string of three tweets, ten ancient skeletons became geopolitical pawns.
Last weekend, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, or whoever in his administration operates his Twitter account, tweeted about a new study that had been published in the journal Science Advances and covered widely in the media, including in Smithsonian.
The study analyzed DNA from ten individuals who had been buried at Ashkelon, a coastal city in Israel, between the Bronze Age and Iron Age. The results suggested that the appearance of new genetic signatures in four of the individuals coincided with changes in the archaeological record that have been associated with the arrival of the Philistines more than 3,000 years ago. These genetic traits resembled those of ancient people who lived in what is now Greece, Italy and Spain. The authors asserted that these findings supported the idea that the Philistines, a group of people made infamous in the Hebrew Bible as the enemies of the Israelites, originally migrated to the Levant from somewhere in southern Europe, but quickly mixed with local populations.