Skeletons, DNA well preserved at ancient Philistine burial site

by Gregory Tomlin, |
A member of the physical anthropology team, Rachel Kalisher, measures a 10th-9th century B.C. skeleton. | Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

ASHKELON, Israel (Christian Examiner) – A burial site in ancient Ashkelon may provide archaeologists with definitive proof of where the Philistines, the ancient enemies of Israel who occupied the city 3,000 years ago during the time of Kings Saul and David, originated.

That's because several of the graves uncovered contain remarkably well-preserved skeletons, complete with their teeth, from which scientists might be able to extract DNA to plot the origin of the people.

National Geographic's Kristin Romey reports that the sensational find in ancient Ashkelon – occupied by the Philistines from the 12th to 7th centuries B.C. – may include only a small portion of the graves that are actually there.

The discovery of the sites, she writes, follows nearly 100 years of scholarship seeking to plot the locations of the five Philistine cities, which included Ashkelon, Ekron, Gaza, Ashdod and Gath (home to Goliath). The current dig, part of the Leon Levy Expedition, has been ongoing since 1985.

According to Romey, the origin of the Philistines has remained a mystery for thousands of years. Some references in the Bible (Deuteronomy 2:23, Jeremiah 47:4, and Amos 9:7) point to "Caphtor" as their origin (modern Crete), and it is clear they were not Semitic peoples. The presence of "Caphtorim" in the land, beginning in the early 12th century B.C., is marked by different styles of pottery and script (both almost Greek) than the ancient Israelites or their Canaanite predecessors.

Other theories about the origin of the Philistines, some now discredited, include Phoenicia, Cilicia and Egypt (by way of the sea).

Archaeologists at Gath have reportedly uncovered a piece of pottery which reportedly contained an inscription bearing two names related to Goliath. The "Goliath inscription" is currently being studied. 

To read the full National Geographic article, click here.