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Wells and Zalloua have come to Carthage to seek help from Tunisian colleagues. They need local DNA to find what's left of Phoenician chromosomes here. That's a complex job: A lot of Middle Eastern people, as well as Africans and Romans, have left their genes in Carthage over the centuries. Calculating when a particular set of chromosomes emerged is difficult, but Wells and Zalloua say they can date mutations relatively accurately.

Certain short sections of junk DNA, called microsatellites, mutate much more rapidly than the longer sequences. They nevertheless mutate at a constant rate, providing a clock that lets geneticists date how old a particular form of a chromosome is. For example, Wells knows he comes from a western European Y-chromosome type called M173. Microsatellites indicate that the man who gave rise to M173, and hence to most western Europeans, lived about 30,000 years ago. Zalloua, on the other hand, has an M20 lineage, which originated in the area of Iran around the same time and is mostly found today in India. Less than 2 percent of Lebanese men have that type.

Most Middle Eastern men belong to M89 and M172. M89s date back to a major migration out of Africa around 45,000 years ago; M172s date back to the dawn of agriculture about 12,000 years ago. Phoenician markers should be carried on either of these types. Most men living in the area surrounding Carthage before the Phoenicians arrived should probably have carried variations of the M96, which is the aboriginal type in North and West Africa. So if Wells and Zalloua find in Tunisia a significant number of M172s and M89s, the Middle Eastern Y chromosomes, that could suggest a link to the Phoenicians.

"If we can find markers here that could only have originated in the Middle East during the Phoenician age, we can assume they were brought by the Phoenicians," says Wells.

While Wells and Zalluoa are taking samples in Tunisia, a Dutch archaeologist is piecing together a different portrait of the Phoenician colonization at Carthage. Roald Docter, a professor at Ghent University, is part of a Tunisian­-Belgian team that recently excavated the cemetery of the first generation of Phoenicians to settle Carthage.

His site, like many archaeological digs, appears unspectacular at first glimpse. Next to a supermarket in an urban zone, it is overgrown with weeds and pocked with heaps of dirt, plastic bottles, and other trash. Last season's trenches have slumped due to recent heavy rains.

"This looked very neat a month ago," he says, walking to the edge of a deep muddy trench. He points to a round pit in the yellowish bedrock below. About three feet (one meter) across, it is one of nine his Tunisian colleagues have located. They found pieces of funerary pots as well as fragments of bone—the bones of the first settlers.

This site, called Bir Massouda, and an adjacent zone that Docter also helped excavate with a University of Hamburg team, shows how the Phoenicians changed and reorganized their colony as it grew into a city. During the first part of the eighth century b.c. the homes were widely spaced along a dirt path, which was later lined with cobbles. Then, as more settlers arrived, the city filled in and became more densely urban. Remnants of elephant tusks indicate that merchant shops were trading in ivory.

Around 675 b.c. another influx of Phoenicians surged into Carthage, bringing a new style of four-room house typical of the Levant. Apparently, a growing menace from the Assyrians had encouraged many Tyrians to emigrate from the homeland.

"If a group of Assyrian soldiers arrives every year, rapes your wife, and takes your money, you might head west too," says Docter.

During this period the residents moved the original cemetery, replacing it with a huge metalworking site. Docter's team has found remnants of a surprisingly advanced technology. CT scans of ancient bellows reveal they contained intake valves to regulate airflow into the hearths and raise the temperature of the hot iron.

The Carthaginians were already strengthening their weapons with a metallurgical technology similar to the Bessemer process, which was not developed until the 19th century. Metallurgist Hans Koens of the University of Amsterdam discovered that the Carthaginians in antiquity were adding large amounts of calcium to the metal, a process that chemically strengthens iron.

This past season Docter's research team located the source of that calcium—the shells of the same mollusk, the murex, which yielded the purple dye that gave the Phoenicians their name. Huge amounts of crushed shells, along with basalt grinders and grindstones cover the metalworking site.

But at the end of the fifth century b.c. the metalworking region succumbed to another population surge. As their city exploded in size, the residents built houses over the hearths. The pits at Bir Massouda are revealing the foundations of those homes. The residents by then belonged to a new society, as distinct from its Phoenician founders as North Americans are today from their 17th-century colonial ancestors. They had embraced new variants of the Tyrian gods. But the Carthaginians always retained a Phoenician style. They continued their forefathers' wanderlust with voyages around Africa and perhaps farther.

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