Israeli archaeologists excavating near the city of Ashkelon along Israel’s southern coast have discovered a cemetery that belonged to the ancient Philistines, a biblical archenemy of the Israelites.
The newly discovered cemetery—dating back to between the 11th and 8th centuries BCE, and containing more than 210 graves—has been conclusively linked to the Philistines. This is a “critical missing link” that allows researchers to tell the story of the ancient ethnic group, said one of the heads of the excavation, Daniel Master, a professor of archaeology at Wheaton College. Master made his comments during a press conference at Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum that coincided with the opening of an Israel Museum exhibit showcasing archaeological artifacts from the area in and around Ashkelon.
Ashkelon was a major seaport in ancient times and was built on a main coastal trade rote, sustaining a large population relative to other cities at the time due to its focus on commerce. The city was also one of the five main Philistine cities for six centuries—along with Gaza, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron—from about the 1100s (BCE) until the city was destroyed by the army of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 604 BCE.
“We’re going to be able to reconstruct what the Philistines as a group were like,” Master said. “We’ve [also] uncovered their houses, we’ve uncovered their trading networks, we’ve uncovered all aspects of their culture…we’re finally going to see the people themselves.”
“There have been other random finds of people caught in Philistine destruction on occasion,” he added, “but nothing like this. No systematic example of what they thought about death and how they treated people in that process.”
“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,” said Harvard University’s Larry Stager, co-director of the excavation, in a statement.