An unprecedented discovery on the southern coast of Israel may help resolve questions about the ancient Philistine people mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.
The Philistines have a large role in the Old Testament, and are known for being enemies of the Israelites. The group often fought their Jewish neighbors, and famous figures like Delilah, who robbed Samson's strength by cutting his beard, and the giant Goliath, were Philistines.
Until now, no biological traces have proven the Philistine people actually existed, according to National Geographic. Although archaeologists have found plenty of distinctive pots, few burial sites have been excavated. Without this knowledge, scientists have been unable to accurately answer questions about the Philistines' origin and culture.
Archaeologists with the Leon Levy Expedition group have recently found the first Philistine cemetery in the biblical city of Ashkelon, Phys.org reports. More than 200 remains have been uncovered.
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"After decades of studying what Philistines left behind, we have finally come face to face with the people themselves," Daniel M. Master, one of the leaders of the excavation told Phys.org. "With this discovery we are close to unlocking the secrets of their origins."
The team is now performing DNA tests on bone samples to resolve questions about the Philistines' geographical origins. The remains are reported to date back to between the 11th and 8th centuries B.C.
Although the discovery was made in 2013, the findings were kept a secret for three years out of fear of attracting ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters.
"We had to bite our tongues for a long time," Master said.
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In the past, ultra-Orthodox protesters have staged demonstrations at excavation sites arguing that if the remains are Jewish, then archaeologists are violating religious norms by disturbing them Phys.org reports.
This finding comes after years of frustration for archaeologists who, without a cemetery, have been unable to have any accurate information about Philistine burial culture or practices. This important discovery will take years more of research before scientists can say anything conclusive about the Philistine people.
"So much of what we know about the Philistines is told by their enemies, by the people who were fighting them or killing them," Master told National Geographic. "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."