Photo Credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Leon Levy Expedition
Senior staff discuss 9th-10th century BC burial in excavation of Philistine cemetery.

By Michael Bachner/TPS

Ashkelon (TPS) – A Philistine cemetery has been discovered for the first time in Israel, possibly shedding light on the mystery of the Philistines’ origins. According to biblical accounts, the Philistines were the arch-foes of ancient Israel.


“After decades of studying what the Philistines left behind, we have finally come face to face with the people themselves,” said Daniel Master, a professor of archaeology at Wheaton College. “With this discovery we are close to unlocking the secrets of their origins.”

Archaeologists and scholars have long searched for the Philistines’ origin. Artifacts found in the cemetery, which date back 2,700 to 3,000 years, may support the biblical account of the Philistines as migrants who arrived on the shores of ancient Israel from western lands in approximately the twelfth century BCE.

“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 found just outside the city walls of Tel Ashkelon, one of the five primary cities of the Philistines,” said Lawrence Stager, Dorot Professor of the Archaeology of Israel at Harvard University.

The discovery was made by the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon more than thirty years after the excavation began. The digs that took place in Ashdod, Ekron, Ashkelon, and Gath have shown how culturally distinct the Philistines were from their Israelite contemporaries.

Philistine burial practices were not like those of the Bronze Age Canaanites, nor were they similar to burial practices in later Iron Age Judea. The Philistines buried their dead primarily in pits that were dug for each deceased individual: male or female, adult or child. Later, more bodies were sometimes placed in the same pit, which was dug again along roughly the same lines, but the new remains were interred with their own grave goods. The cemetery was also found to contain evidence of cremations, together with pit interments and multi-chambered tombs.

After quelling Bar Kochba’s revolt in the Roman province of Judaea in 135 CE, Emperor Hadrian renamed the area Syria Palaestina, for the Israelites’ ancient enemies.

Research on artifacts found at the site, including bones, ceramics, jewelry and weapons, may connect the Philistines to related populations elsewhere in the Mediterranean Basin. Bone samples taken from the site are also being tested in order to ascertain the Philistines’ origins.

Most of the items found in the graves were storage jars, small bowls, and decorated juglets filled with what is believed to have been perfumed oil. While bracelets and earrings were found upon some of the remains and weapons with others, most of the individuals seem not have been buried with personal items.

The discovery was made in Ashkelon, a key port and maritime trade center from the Bronze Age to the Crusades, when it was destroyed and left uninhabited until modern times.

The excavation was organized and sponsored by the Leon Levy Foundation; the Semitic Museum at Harvard University; Boston College; Wheaton College; and Troy University, under license from the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.


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  1. This should finally put paid to the 'Palestinian' claim to be descendants of the Philistines and the Canaanites at once. The canaanite link has already been thouroughly and irrefutably debunked by the Human Genome Project's Jewish Study, which has overwhelmingly determined that Israel is descended from the Southern canaanites and we carry the same DNA, which the Arabs claimimg to be 'palestinian' do not, having origins themselves in the Arabian Peninsula. Only coastal fishing communities in Lebanon have been found to have Northern canaanite DNA, or Phoenicians, compared in a study done some years ago when 3500 year old graves were found in Tyre and Sidon and tests were conducted in Lebanon, marseilles, Nice, parts of Spain and modern Tunis and Tunisia, where the only matches were found with coastal fishing villages in Lebanon…concludive proof that Rome wiped out the Carthaginian colonies completely and Carthage itself following the Third Punic war..

    These Arab squatters are Jordanian who took Jewish land, homes and property and expelled or killed the Jews, from 1948 to 1967! When the damn Brits put King Hussein on the throne and made him head of the so called Arabs from the surrounding areas and especially Saudi Arabia where King Hussein came from! In Saudi Arabia King Husseins family and the present Saudi King's family, were fighting for the throne and the cunning Brits (thought they were doing an excellent job to bring "peace" to the middle east) put the Kind Hussein as the King of Jordan…So these Jordanians sitting in Israel were never there before 1948…..they need to return to Jordan Syria and Saudi Arabia…

  3. Eric Holt I must confess to a bit of sarcasm Eric , as many of the ignorant and uniformed critics of Istael have tried to link the phonetically similar words "phillistine " and " palestine " , so as to give credibility to the palestinian claim to have been on the land before the Common Era , thus before the Jews . Arabs are however from the Saudi Arabian Peninsula . Sarcasm aside , if I had to guess , I would also say the Phoenicians were of some Mediterranean origin .

  4. actually they say something sounding more like a "b " balastinian .Coincidentaly , atleast in English the two words are similar phonetically as well as visually [in spelling ] Nothing more than a common occurrence in linguistics like Aslatic and Atlantic . Unfortunately there are some who are totally ignorant, or more likely purposefully ignorant who attempt a connection between Phillistine and Palestinian /Palestine .

  5. I can only add to that Correct historical narrative , that the Brits knew where the oil was , and after the Ottomans were vanquished , knew they needed some sort of stable state to deal with . Ergo Saudi Arabia and Iraq were created .

  6. Jimmy Davis Just so you know…ignorence has nothing to do with it…..there is no P in the palestinian Levantine Arabic dialect subgroup. It is pronounced "F" by palestinians.. not B which would be expected in other arabic languages. Forget english dipthongs, diagraphs or anything about our language in relation to arabic languages. It is different. There are many different arabic languages…but only different degrees of usage of one english language. You were actually wrong. Justy so you know….palestina..the correct latin pronounciation of palestine…is a latin word for rolling or migratory as in reference by emporer hadrian to the south of syria….home of the philistine. Most historians may not…but i said…most "historians" believe that Hadrian actually had philistines in mind when he named Palestine. All as a lesson to jews. Philistines were their mortal enemy for centuries after all.

  7. Eric Holt – Eric, it is so pleasing that someone, such as yourself, puts their cape over a muddy puddle – I guess one has to tread carefully in this world of "all-out opposition" – interesting historical facts, thank you…

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