DNA Evidence Argues Ancient Biblical Villain Philistines Have European Ancestors

Excavation of the Philistine Cemetery at Ashkelon. Photographer Melissa Aja.
Photo Courtesy of Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon.

The Roman name for the region including Israel—which evolved into “Palestine”—may have been derived from the name of the Philistine people who once lived on the coast, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Yet ironically, it turns out at least some of the Philistine’s ancestors are not only not from Israeli territory—they aren’t even from the Middle East. A new study examining the genetic material in bone samples dating to more than 3,000-years-ago found that a “substantial proportion of their ancestry was derived from a European population,” according to a press release on the Leon Levy Expedition Ashkelon project.

“For the first time, thanks to state-of-the-art DNA testing on ancient bones, we are able to demonstrate that the Philistines were immigrants to the region of Philistia in the 12th century BC,” said Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon director Daniel M. Master in the press release, which was published by Lydia Weitzman Communications. “For thirty years, we excavated at Ashkelon, uncovering Canaanites, early Philistines and later Philistines, and now we can begin to understand the story that these bones tell.”

The research, jointly done with Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and published in “Science Advances”, aligns with ancient texts that labeled the Philistines as immigrants, including the Bible. The press release referenced Amos 9:7 as saying the Philistines emigrated from a land known as Caphtor. In Deuteronomy, a people from Caphtor are described as conquering territory later used by the Philistines along the Israeli coastline, including Gaza.

The Leon Levy Expedition/Max Planck Institute genetic research included DNA evidence from infants buried in Ashkelon, a city in Israel once ruled by the ancient Philistines. Those infants had genes from Southern Europe, and the fact that such material is present in infants argues it is from permanent inhabitants in the Philistine region and not just European travelers, according to Master. “These infants were not travelers, they are the result of immigration and family building, thereby indicating that their parents did indeed come to the region from overseas in the 12th century BC.”

Not everyone who lived in the region hailed from Europe and that contrast is important when determining the origins of the Philistines. The research project found that genetic data that was older than the believed entrance of the Philistine people did not have a European component. All the subjects in the study, including the Philistines, had most of their genetic data from the “Levant” region that includes Israel, Lebanon, Syria and more.

However, while the European genetic ancestry was once present in the Philistines, it was eventually erased, presumably by intermarriage with locals. “Within no more than two centuries, this genetic footprint introduced during the early Iron Age is no longer detectable and seems to be diluted by a local Levantine related gene pool,” the press release quoted Choongwon Jeong of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History as saying.

Yet in the end, the Philistine people managed to stay a recognizable group long after their genetics—and even their culture—changed. “Over time, we can show that Philistine culture changed, that their language changed, and now that their genetic profile changed, but, according to their neighbors, they remained Philistines from beginning to end,” said Masters.

The new genetic study, however, indicates that that beginning for the Philistines was not necessarily in the same region so long associated with them.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, July 7, 2019)


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