Published On: Sun, Jul 10th, 2016

3000-years-old bones at Philistine cemetery in Israel shed new light on Goliath’s people

creditsphotos  TSAFRIR ABAYOVLEON LEVY EXPEDITION 10th-9th century BC burial in the excavation of the Philistine cemetery by the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

 

A huge Philistine cemetery some 3000-years-old has been found in southern Israel, in the Mediterranean seaport of Ashkelon. For the first time the undisturbed graves for more then 150 individual of the biblical giant Goliath’s people, can finally shed new light on mysteries of their origin, culture,  dietary habits, lifestyle and morbidity.

The researchers have gently unearthed remains of men, women, and a few young children, most buried in simple pits, some in stone-lined chambers, others cremated. Many of the dead were laid to rest on their backs along with personal items such as jewelry, weapons, or ceramics. 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. The role of the objects in burial remains a mystery.

This port city, had 13, 000 inhabitants at its peak. and has also yielded clues of Canaanites, Israelites, Philistines, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Mycenaeans, Greeks, and Romans. Findings have included pottery, coins, jewelry, and statues, as well as various examples of advanced architecture, such as the oldest known arched gateway, dating to 1800 B.C.

 

Philippe Bohstrom Haaretz Contributor

 

 

The Philistines were wiped off the face of the earth by Babylonian armies, almost three millennia ago.

“This discovery is a crowning achievement, the opportunity to finally see them face to face, ”  said Daniel M. Master, professor of Wheaton College and co-director of the Leon Levy Expedition. “After some three decades of excavations in the area, the expedition’s organizers the archaeologists finally have a data set not on one or two individuals but a whole population. That in turn will enable them to talk about what’s typical and what’s not typical, he explained, ” he told Haaretz.

“We are getting a sense of people who suffered malnutrition at youth and we see that in their teeth, ” said Master. “We are getting a sense for some of the things that they experienced in their life, on a very personal level, their medical history, as it were, that we can’t get from looking at the houses or the pottery or the bread ovens that they left behind.”

 

A skull from the excavation of the Philistine cemetery by the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon. © Tsafrir Abayov for the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

 

“There have been pages and pages and pages of Philistine burial customs, and 99 percent of it is utter nonsense now that we really know how they were buried, ” Told Lawrence E. Stager, Harvard’s Dorot Professor of the Archaeology of Israel Emeritus and a co-director of the expedition to news.harvard. “We see that these burial patterns are very different from what we know of Canaanite culture, Egyptian culture, and Israelite culture. So we now have comparative and contrasting archaeology.”

The expedition sponsored by the Harvard Semitic Museum, Boston College, Wheaton College, and Troy University, and is licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority .

Researchers will use DNA, radiocarbon, and biological distance testing in the coming months and years to help determine the Philistines’ origin. Were they realy  “sea peoples” who migrated to the Cnaan around the 12th century B.C? how long they lived, how tall they were, how healthy they were.

 

a burial at the site. © Tsafrir Abayov for the Leon Levy Exp

 

Who were the Philistines?

The origins of the Philistines remain a mystery. Their burial practice suggests they may have come from the Mycenaean civilization of the Aegean.
“What is certain is that they were strangers in the Semitic region, ” where their presence between 1200 and around 600 BC is evident on a thin coastal strip running from present-day Gaza to Tel Aviv, said Master, according to i24 news.

Traders and seafarers, they spoke a language of Indo-European origin, did not practice circumcision and ate pork and dog, as proven by bones and marks found on them in the ruins of the other four Philistine cities: Gaza, Gath, Ashdod and Ekron.

Beyond the previously scanty archaeological record, the Philistines are known mostly from the Old Testament account given by their neighbors and bitter enemies, the ancient Israelites.

The book of Samuel describes the capture by Philistine fighters of the Ark of the Covenant and the duel between their giant warrior Goliath felled by a stone from David’s sling.

From these biblical descriptions of savage marauders comes the modern usage of “philistine” to mean a person without culture or manners.

Some of the site’s finds were going on display Sunday at the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem.

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