An archaeological discovery in Israel may have solved one of the most enduring biblical mysteries - where did the ancient Philistines come from?
The Philistines left behind plenty of pottery. But part of the mystery surrounding the ancient people was that very little biological trace of them had been found — until 2013.
That’s when archaeologists excavating the site of the biblical city of Ashkelon found what they say is the first Philistine cemetery ever discovered. They say they have uncovered the remains of more than 200 people there.
The team is now performing DNA, radiocarbon and other tests on bone samples uncovered at the cemetery, dating back to between the 11th and the 8th centuries B.C., to help resolve a debate about the Philistines’ geographical origins. The archaeologists have not announced any conclusions, saying they are taking advantage of recent advances in DNA testing to get the most accurate results.
'After decades of studying what Philistines left behind, we have finally come face to face with the people themselves,' said Daniel M. Master, professor of archaeology at Wheaton College and one of the leaders of the excavation. 'With this discovery we are close to unlocking the secrets of their origins.'
The archaeologists kept the discovery a secret for three years until the end of their dig as they did not want to attract ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters. 'We had to bite our tongues for a long time,' Master said.
On hands and knees, workers brushed away layers of dusty earth to reveal the brittle white bones of entire Philistine skeletons reposed as they were three millennia ago.
Decorated juglets believed to have contained perfumed oil were found in graves. Some bodies were still wearing bracelets and earrings. Others had weapons.
The Philistines buried their dead with perfume bottles, placed near the face. Near the legs were jars that likely held oil, wine or food. In some cases, archaeologists found the dead were buried wearing necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and even toe rings. Some were buried with their weapons.
Archaeologist Adam Aja said: 'This is how Philistines treated their dead, and it's the code book to decoding everything.'