Philistine Cemetery Discovered in Israel May Help Solve Biblical Mystery

July 12, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Philistine skull excavated from the Philistine City of Ashkelon
Photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov for the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

"With this discovery we are close to unlocking the secrets of their origins."

Archaeologists believe have uncovered a cemetery belonging to the Philistines for the first time ever, containing the remains of 200 people who were buried there more than 3,000 years ago.

The find might help shed light on one the Hebrew Bible’s most mysterious people.

After excavating the ancient Philistine City of Ashkelon on the southern coast of Israel for nearly 30 years, the cemetery was discovered just outside the city walls.

"After decades of studying what Philistines left behind, we have finally come face to face with the people themselves," said Daniel Master, an archaeologist from Wheaton College in Illinois, to The Telegraph. "With this discovery we are close to unlocking the secrets of their origins."

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In the Hebrew bible, the Philistines are cast as the villainous archenemies of the Israelites, having notoriously sent Goliath to fight David. Though little is known about them, they have come to be characterized as an uncultured people.

However, that perception may soon change as researchers continue to analyze their findings. “The victors write history,” Master tells The New York Times. “We found these Philistines, and finally we get to hear their story told by them rather than by their enemies.”

Philistine skeleton excavated from the Philistine City of Ashkelon
Philistine skeleton at the Philistine City of Ashkelon buried with a small vial

This burial features a small vial, which most likely once held perfume, placed near the nose of the deceased at the time of interment. Credit: Tsafrir Abayov for the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

The team still has to conduct DNA, radiocarbon, and genetic testing on the bone samples to confirm that the remains belong to the Philistines, who first appeared in this part of the eastern Mediterranean in the 12th century B.C.

Archaeology News reports that small ceramic perfume vials were found near the skulls of many of the skeletons, and a pottery fragment inscribed with Crypto-Minoan writing dating to the 11th century B.C. was also discovered.

"Finding the Philistine cemetery is fantastic because there are so many questions regarding their genetic origins and their interconnections with other cultures," Assaf Yasur-Landau, an archaeologist at Haifa University, tells National Geographic.

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