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article imageHuge find in Israel could tell us who the Philistines really were

By Karen Graham     Jul 11, 2016 in Science
Archaeologists have been excavating a site in Ashkelon, an ancient seaport 35 miles south of Tel Aviv, Israel for the past 30 years, but it wasn't until Sunday that the world found out about the huge discovery they made in 2013.
Harvard University archaeologist Lawrence Stager has led the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon since 1985, devoting 30 years of his life to the 150-acre site, known to be a major city of the Philistines between the 12th and 7th centuries B.C.
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The Philistines were some of the Old Testament's most notorious villains, say National Geographic, and most of us are familiar with the story of the young shepherd, David (Ist Samuel), who would later become King of Judah and his famous encounter with the Philistine giant, Goliath.
And then there is also the story of Delilah (Judges: Chapter 16), who was loved by the Israelite, Samson, a man of great strength. Delilah betrayed Samson by allowed the Philistines to shave Samson's locks, making him too weak to fight. The Philistines put out his eyes and brought him to one of their cities, Gaza, where he was bound with chains.
Samsom and Delilah  by  Guercino - 31 December 1653.
Samsom and Delilah, by Guercino - 31 December 1653.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg
In 2013, the team of archaeologists struck a "treasure trove" of bones, a cemetery outside of what would have been the walls of the city. “It was just a goldmine of a cemetery,” said Daniel Master, an archaeology professor at Wheaton College in Illinois and a co-director of the Harvard-backed expedition.
Ashkelon as part of the Philistine pentapolis
After more than a century of work and study, historians and archaeologists have identified the five major cities of the Philistines - Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza. The five cities combined made up Philistia. Ashkelon was the oldest and largest seaport in Canaan.
The Neolithic site of Ashkelon is located 1.5 km (0.93 mi) north of Tel Ashkelon and dates to circa ...
The Neolithic site of Ashkelon is located 1.5 km (0.93 mi) north of Tel Ashkelon and dates to circa 7900 BC.
The thriving Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 B.C.) metropolis covered more than 150 acres. Commanding ramparts and the oldest arched city gate in the world, still stands two stories high, protecting the city from invasion by sea. During the Philistine era (1175-604 B.C.), Ashkelon continued to thrive as a member of the Philistine pentapolis.
Archaeologists have found artifacts dating to the neolithic period of occupation at Ashkelon, mostly animal bones, and flint pieces. In 1991, a finely cast bronze statuette of a bull calf, originally silvered, 4 inches (10 cm) long was found in what was determined to be a small tabernacle, associated with the worship of the Canaanite gods El and Baal.
The Philistines conquered Canaanite Ashkelon about 1150 BC. The earliest pottery finds, along with inscriptions and structures are very similar to the early Greek city of Mycenae in mainland Greece, giving rise to the belief the Philistines were a member population of the "sea peoples" invaders who came from western Anatolia or from southern Europe.
Work at the Ashkelon dig has been going on for 30 years.
Work at the Ashkelon dig has been going on for 30 years.
Times of Israel
Who were the Philistines?
As much as we know about the different periods represented in the ruins of Ashkelon and other Philistine cities, very little is known about the people themselves, other than speculative references. That is why the cemetery both shines an important light on the group’s history and sets their ancient burial record straight.
Up until recently, human remains have been elusive, so much so that one archaeologist told National Geographic, "Archaeologists who study the Philistines began to joke that they were buried at sea like the Vikings—that's why you couldn't find them
Cemetery at Asgkelon.
Cemetery at Asgkelon.
Times of Israel
What is truly amazing about the discovery of the cemetery is that no one would have found it at all, if it wasn't for a retired employee of the Israel Antiquities Authority telling the expedition team that he recalled uncovering Philistine burials outside of the city's north wall during a construction survey in the early 1980s.
The archaeologists have found the remains of 160 individuals: men, women, and a few young children, most buried in simple pits, some in stone-lined chambers, others cremated. Along with the remains, the team found items such as jewelry, weapons, or ceramics.
Philistines deposited very few grave goods with each individual. Some were adorned with a few pieces...
Philistines deposited very few grave goods with each individual. Some were adorned with a few pieces of jewelry, while others were buried with a small set of ceramics or a tiny juglet that may have once contained perfume.
Times of Israel
A large number were “accompanied by two storage jars, one of which is often topped with a bowl, and then a little juglet on top,” adding to the mystery of what role these items played in the burials.
The exciting part is yet to come. Researchers will use DNA, radiocarbon, and biological distance testing in the coming months and years to help determine the Philistines’ exact origin. They are looking to support the long-held view that they were “sea peoples.”
Philistine cemetery.
Philistine cemetery.
Times of Israel
There is so much to learn about these people — how tall were they, and were they healthy? What medical problems did they have to contend with and what did they look like?
“We’ve got the beginning and we’ve got the end and both of these things have been profound contributions to the study of the Philistines,” said Master. “But here we are seeing the people themselves, and we are going to learn things that we can learn only from the bones.”
More about Philistines, 3000 years old, Israel, Goliath, 30 year excavation
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