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From Deseret News:

Billy Hallowell
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Archaeologists' Bible discovery set to reveal some stunning new details about the Philistines

For the first time, archaeologists say they have discovered a Philistine cemetery near the ancient city of Ashkelon in Israel — a significant development considering the group's prominent place in the Old Testament.

Bible readers likely know the Philistines as the archenemy of the Jewish people, with the story of a young David battling a giant named Goliath, who is described as a terrifying "champion" in 1 Samuel 17, among the more recognizable and well-known Old Testament stories.

There's also the story of Delilah told in Judges 16. Delilah, a Philistine woman, tricked Samson and then cut his hair, thus taking his strength.

But while the Bible most certainly contains stories about the supposedly tough-hearted Philistines, readers lack conclusive information about their cultural practices and origination — information that experts have been craving, and might now finally get following the much-heralded cemetery find.

According to Biblical Archaeology Review, the cemetery, which dates back to the 11th–8th centuries B.C., was first discovered back in 2013 by the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon but was kept a secret until this past weekend.
Ashkelon is 1 of 5 Philistine capitals, or city states, along with Gath, Gaza, Ekron and Ashdod, The New York Times reported.

Excavations have forged on over the past three years, revealing some fascinating details about the Philistines. But during that time archaeologists covertly worked, keeping the cemetery a secret from the outside world for fear that ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters would hamper progress at the site.

Some people from certain Orthodox groups have been known to take issue with such excavations. They argue the remains are potentially Jewish and that any disturbance would violate their faith, as The Associated Press reported.

So, silence was reportedly seen as a way to protect the ongoing research.

It's not the first time that archaeologists have explored the Philistines, though these latest findings are helping experts to better piece together the details of a mysterious culture — one whose history is primarily told through its enemies.

The Associated Press went as far as to say that the cemetery finding might "help solve (the) mystery" surrounding the Philistines. National Geographic shared a similar speculation, wondering whether anthropologists will soon know the "origins of one of the most notorious and enigmatic peoples."

Considering what experts have uncovered, these speculations could end up proving true. Consider that, until 2013, very little biological information was known about the Philistines, as the AP noted.

Revealing the details of the discovery Sunday, the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon — a partnership that includes archaeologists from Troy University, Wheaton College, Harvard University and Boston College — said that they will now perform radiocarbon tests, take bone samples and explore DNA to dive deeper into where, geographically speaking, the Philistines originated.

So far, no conclusions have been made public, though research into the matter forges on, the AP reported.

"After decades of studying what the Philistines left behind, we have finally come face to face with the people themselves," Daniel M. Master, co-director of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, said of the findings. “With this discovery we are close to unlocking the secrets of their origins.”

With the remains of 210 individuals entombed, the outlet reported that much of what has been written about Philistine burial practices before the cemetery was found can now be ignored, as more definitive details will now paint a clearer picture.

While some of the bodies at the site were merely buried within the ground, others were cremated and placed in jars. Still, others were given larger tombs, as Biblical Archaeology Review reported.

Rather than other nearby cultures such as the Canaanites, the Philistines seemingly buried bodies and did not disturb the remains instead of engaging in "secondary burial" — a practice in which bodies decompose before the bones are later moved to another location.

And while there were men, women and kids in the Philistine cemetery, there were no newborns, leading to questions about how the Philistines handled the remains of deceased babies.

A variety of items were discovered inside of the burials, including jewelry and weapons. Some individuals were wearing bracelets, earrings, rings and other elements, with weapons accompanying some of the remains.

A few bodies even had perfume next to them, with Haaretz speculating that this was possibly done to let the deceased smell the fragrance while in eternity.

It should be noted that Philistine remains have been found in the past, but that they offered up too small of a sample from which to draw broader conclusions. That's why this discovery is capturing so much attention.
"The search (for a cemetery) became so desperate that archaeologists who study the Philistines began to joke that they were buried at sea like the Vikings—that's why you couldn't find them," Haifa University archaeologist Assaf Yasur-Landau told National Geographic.

The Leon Levy Expedition at Ashkelon had gone on since 1985, but it wasn't until 2013 that the burial ground was discovered. And it will likely take years, if not decades, for experts to work through the findings.

Either way, this is a discovery that will surely have major implications.

"The victors write history," Master told The New York Times. "We found these Philistines, and finally, we get to hear their story told by them rather than by their enemies."