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Human remains buried almost 3,000 years ago in southern Israel may help researchers finally solve the mystery of the Philistines' origins.

Discovery of 3,000-Year-Old Philistine Cemetery May Change History

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A team of researchers have unearthed the first known cemetery of the Philistines in southern Israel, which may reveal the origins of the famous Hebrew Biblical villains, who made up one of the tribes of Sea Peoples. Due to the discovery, many answers have finally been found regarding these mysterious people.

The cemetery was actually unearthed in 2013, but archaeologists kept their discovery secret for three years until all excavations had been completed.  A thorough examination of the burials provides further support to the view that the Philistines came from the Aegean Sea region. Moreover, they had very close ties with the Phoenicians.

Aegean Sea Map (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The impressive discovery is the most important finding in the history of research related to the Philistines. As Lawrence E. Stager, the Professor of the Archeology of Israel, Emeritus, at Harvard University said:

“Ninety-nine percent of the chapters and articles written about Philistine burial customs should be revised or ignored now that we have the first and only Philistine cemetery.''

According to National Geographic, the discovery of the large cemetery took place outside the walls of the ancient city of the Philistines – Tel Ashkelon. It was the most important and thriving Philistine settlement and harbor between the 12 th and 7 th centuries BC.  After thirty years of excavations, the researchers, led by Lawrence E. Stager, who has led the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon since 1985, are finally able to answer some of the questions related to the Philistines.

An Excavation taking place in Ashkelon, Israel

An Excavation taking place in Ashkelon, Israel (public domain)

The cemetery, which dates to between 11 th and 8 th centuries BC, contains the remains of more than 211 people. The major advantage of the cemetery is that it revealed not just one or two individuals, but a whole population, and the remains of people of different genders and ages. The tombs were not looted and had remained undisturbed for millennia, so they contain information that puts a fresh light on the origins of the Philistines. There is no evidence of any trauma on the bones, which suggests that these people died due to the natural reasons, not from war or any other kind of violence.

Moreover, due to the discovery, the researchers are able to learn about the lifestyles and burial rituals of these mysterious people. It seems that the Philistines were very different from the Canaanites and the highlanders in the east. The burials were also somehow different than the ones, which belong to other tribes of the Middle east. The researchers discovered about 150 cremated people buried in oval pits. Four of them were deposited in burial chamber tombs. Similar practices can be observed in Aegean cultures. Apart from the 150 individual pit graves, six burial chambers with multiple bodies were discovered.

A child burial is excavated at Ashkelon. The few children and infants buried in the cemetery were interred with a covering or "blanket" of broken pottery.

A child burial is excavated at Ashkelon. The few children and infants buried in the cemetery were interred with a covering or "blanket" of broken pottery. PHOTOGRAPH BY MELISSA AJA FOR THE LEON LEVY EXPEDITION TO ASHKELON

Inside the tombs many typical burial goods were found, including: juglets, bowls, storage jars, spear points, arrowheads, two bottles of perfumes and a few cases of jewelry. The latest pottery comes from the 7 th century BC, what suggests that during this period the burial chambers were closed. Future examinations with the use of DNA tests may bring more information.

The Philistines are one of the mysterious tribes of the ''Sea Peoples''. For many centuries, it was unknown where they come from. As Alicia McDermott from Ancient Origins wrote in September 22, 2015:

''The Sea Peoples were a group of tribes that arose and battled against ancient Mediterranean communities from 1276-1178 BC. At the time the victims of their barrages called them: theSherden, the Sheklesh, Lukka, Tursha, Peleset and Akawasha. Lack of concrete evidence has left the history of the Sea Peoples to be heavily debated in the archaeological community. Scholars believe that it is likely the identity of the warrior Sea Peoples is Etruscan/Trojan, Italian, Philistine, Mycenaen or even Minoan.

Procession of Philistine Captives at Medinet-habu

Procession of Philistine Captives at Medinet-habu (public domain)

A new study focuses on one of these alleged Sea Peoples – the Philistines. The origin of where they came from has also been a longstanding question for archaeologists. The past assumption was that as they were after all, “sea” people, they must be based from a location near water. The new discovery goes against this previously held idea. Tel Tayinat/Tell Tayinat (ancient Kunulua), Turkey was previously thought to have been just one of the many locations invaded by the Philistines, however new research proposes that they may have their origins in that location instead. The common previously held belief was that the Philistines were originally from the Aegean or Cyprus regions.

If this new report of the Philistine “base” being the remote site in southeast Turkey is in fact true, then it would show that the Philistines were present when many of the great civilizations collapsed and somehow they were exempt from a similar fate.''

Top image: Human remains buried almost 3,000 years ago in southern Israel may help researchers finally solve the mystery of the Philistines' origins. PHOTOGRAPH BY TSAFRIR ABAYOV FOR THE LEON LEVY EXPEDITION TO ASHKELON

By Natalia Klimzcak



If the Phillistines were there well after the Israelites were supposed to have conquered the area and Solomon and David had a spread a great kingdom what does that tell you about the Old Testament?

...they are just trying to create a new story to fit in with their stories and speculations .....
...most are suffering from identity crisis.....

and it makes sense. Think of the order the Bronze civilizations collapsed in relation to where the Trojan war is likely to have taken place. The Greek raiders would have hit Asian Minor first, followed by the Islands and the Coast of the Canaanite region. Egypt would have been hit last w/a weakened force thus they were able to defeat them.

Also, many myths suggest Agamemnon after returning to Mycea found his wife remarried etc. and decided to take his crew and head to Egypt.

Notably absent from all these considerations is the fate of all the thousands of Mycenaean Greeks returning from the war at Troy...not blessed with Homer's overview...they are surely candidates for piratical assaults along the coast of Asia Minor and Levant and to be candidates, along with seafarers from random areas like Sardinia and coastal North Africa should be candidates for a constituent of the Sea Peoples.

I must have missed a lot of "new" research. When did there become any connections between the 2 groups? In years of seminary & archeology, I have never seen that put forth (maybe in a cartoon?) Philistines were arch-enemies of Israel. Phoenicians allies "kin".



Natalia Klimczak is an historian, journalist and writer and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Languages, University of Gdansk. Natalia does research in Narratology, Historiography, History of Galicia (Spain) and Ancient History of Egypt, Rome and Celts. She... Read More

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