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Discovery of Philistine Cemetery May Solve Biblical Mystery

skull. skeleton bones found in Philistine cemetery in the Ashkelon National Park. (Photo: Leon Levy Foundation/ASHERNET)

The villainous biblical figures such as the giant Goliath and Delilah, who cut Samson's hair, have something in common: they are both Philistines, one of the Bible's most elusive groups. For many years the origins of the Philistines have remained a mystery, but a new discovery, a large cemetery outside of Ashkelon, Israel, may help archaeologists understand more about their culture.

The discovery of a large cemetery outside the walls of ancient Ashkelon, a major city of the Philistines between the 12th and 7th centuries B.C., is the first of its kind in the history of archaeological investigation in the region.

While more than a century of scholarship has identified the five major cities of the Philistines and artifacts distinctive to their culture, only a handful of burials have been tentatively identified.

Simply put, archaeologists have found plenty of pots, but very few people…

The archaeologists are capping off three decades of excavation this year with an Ashkelon retrospective at the Israel Museum that opens on July 11. "There couldn't be a better way to end this excavation," says Stager [an emeritus professor of archaeology at Harvard University, who has led the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon since 1985], referring to the fortuitous cemetery discovery. "It's marvelous."

"So much of what we know about the Philistines is told by their enemies, by the people who were fighting them or killing them," says Master [an archaeology professor at Wheaton College and the Leon Levy Expedition's co-director]. "Now, for the first time at a site like Ashkelon, we'll really be able to tell their story by the things they left behind for us."

Tags: Facts and Findings

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