An international team of researchers believes it has uncovered a Philistine cemetery just outside the Israeli port city of Ashkelon, which was once one of the five principal cities of the ancient civilization. The Leon Levy Expedition, which has been excavating in and around the city since 1985, says the find is the first of its kind.
The team has unearthed skeletons and artifacts that it suspects had rested for more than 3,000 years in the cemetery, potentially offering clues to the Philistines’ lifestyle and perhaps providing some answers to the mysteries of where the Philistines came from. Much has remained unknown about their origins.
Researchers say the site — which is dated from between the 11th and 8th centuries B.C. — contains the remains of more than 150 bodies, variously arranged in single graves and larger burial chambers.
And already, the circumstances of these burials are beginning to give lie to the Philistines' reputation as uncultured boors.
Another distinct aspect of the Philistine graveyard, the researchers say, is the colorful pottery found throughout the sites and chambers. Many of the skeletons were found with small jugs of perfume placed right under the neck or right next to the nostril, as if to give the deceased something to smell for eternity, the researchers said. The jugs may have also been placed in the tombs to fight the reeking smell of decomposition.
The researchers hope that different tests will eventually reveal the origins of the people, who made a mysterious entrance onto the historical stage in the early 12th century B.C.
The team still has to perform DNA, radiocarbon and genetic testing on the bone samples to prove that the remains belong to the western migrants. Archeologists call them members of the Sea People, who were described as attackers in ancient Egyptian texts.
The cities and their people are mentioned in the ancient texts of the Babylonians, Egyptians and Assyrians. In the Hebrew Bible, they were the nemeses of the Israelites and sent Goliath to fight David. Many tales tell of the great battles the Philistines fought and lost until their utter destruction at the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army in 604 B.C.