JERUSALEM (CNN) — Archaeologists have unearthed the first Philistine cemetery ever discovered, shedding light on an ancient civilization that was home to one of the Bible’s most famous villains.
Historians have long hoped to learn more about the Philistines, and the burial ground offers insight into this ancient and historic population.
The Philistines are best known for Goliath, the giant who challenged a young David to battle near the Valley of Elah; the pair’s story is recounted in the biblical books of Samuel.
The 3,000-year-old site was found at Ashkelon, in southern Israel; its discovery marks the culmination of more than 30 years of exploration at the site.
“This cemetery is going to teach us a whole lot about the Philistines that we’ve never known before,” said Daniel Master, professor of archaeology at Wheaton College and co-director of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon.
“We’ve learned about their houses, we’ve learned about what they ate and we learned about who they traded with, but now we’re seeing the people themselves.”
Archaeologists unearthed skeletons, individually buried with their own jugs, storage jars, and bowls. The small jugs are assumed to have been filled with perfumed oil.
Some skeletons were even found wearing bracelets and earrings, while others had weapons.
The cemetery also had evidence of cremations, pit internments, and multi-chambered tombs.
“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 found just outside the city walls of Tel Ashkelon,” said Lawrence Stager, a professor of archaeology at Harvard University and a co-director of the expedition.
Bone samples taken from the site will undergo three different types of testing – DNA, radiocarbon and biological distance studies – to help determine the origin of the Philistines. Biblical passages suggest the community came by sea from ancient Crete.
Ashkelon, where the cemetery was found, is known as one of the five cities of the Philistines. It was a major Mediterranean port and a hub for maritime trade until the Crusades, when it was destroyed; it remained deserted until modern times.