Philistine DNA suggests European roots, researchers say

Updated Jul 04 2019

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In this file photo taken on June 28, 2016, a team of foreign archaeologists extract skeletons at the excavation site of the first Philistine cemetery ever found in the Mediterranean coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon. — AFP
In this file photo taken on June 28, 2016, a team of foreign archaeologists extract skeletons at the excavation site of the first Philistine cemetery ever found in the Mediterranean coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon. — AFP

JERUSALEM: Ancient bones excavated in Israel and analysed in Germany may have cracked the puzzle of the Philistines’ provenance and provided for the first time evidence of the biblical people’s European origins, researchers say.

The findings related to the Old Testament nemesis of the ancient Israelites were published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances and dubbed “extraordinary” by one of the archaeologists involved.

Many are familiar with the Philistines through the biblical story of Goliath, the giant Philistine warrior killed by the underdog David and his sling in the Valley of Ella, as told in the Book of Samuel.

The Philistines are believed to have arrived in the region in the 12th century BC, but researchers have had no proof that they hailed from elsewhere.

Biblical and ancient Egyptian texts indicated their origin to be from “the sea”, while their building styles and pottery suggested Aegean influences.

“The idea that the Philis­tines were immigrants was something we could never demonstrate before,” said Daniel Master, director of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, one of the five Philistine cities, and head of the archaeological team there.

Using cutting-edge technology, experts analysed Ashkelon bones from the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, said researcher Michal Feldman from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany.

“When we compared the ancestry of the two (periods) by using genome data, we saw that the Philistines, already Iron Age people, have an ancestral component that was not there in the Bronze Age people, who lived there before,” she said.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2019