Ancient DNA reveals Biblical-era Philistines were European

The Philistines were related to Europeans, according to DNA evidence in a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

Scientists looked at the genomes of 10 Bronze and Iron Age individuals from Ashkelon, which is on the Mediterranean Sea about 40 miles west of Jerusalem and which was known in ancient times as one of five cities of the Philistines.

The ancient group, immortalized in the Hebrew Bible, arrived in the area in the 12th century BC.

They found that the Philistines were genetically distinct from human remains from other ancient groups who lived in the area because they had a set of genes linked to Europeans.

“Of the available contemporaneous populations, we model the southern European gene pool as the best proxy for this incoming gene flow,” the scientists wrote in the study.

The Philistines may have had southern European ancestry

Comparing results from the earliest-available Philistines with DNA from later Iron Age remains in the area, the scientists found that the European genes did not continue. These early European immigrants into what is now Israel would have essentially been absorbed into the existing population and would not have had a longer-term effect on the genetic makeup of people in the area.

The Philistines are perhaps best-known as a group the Israelites were fighting in scenes depicted in the Book of Samuel. The Philistines sent out their great warrior Goliath, challenging the Israelites to put forth a fighter of their own so that the entire conflict would rest on the outcome of the duel.

A young Israelite volunteered and killed the giant using a sling, propelling a small lethal stone at Goliath’s head.

So every time you talk about an underdog story as “David vs. Goliath,” you’re making a Philistine reference.

Results come from decades of archaeological work

In 2016, archaeologists announced that they had unearthed the first Philistine cemetery, calling it the culmination of three decades of work.

“This cemetery is going to teach us a whole lot about the Philistines that we’ve never known before,” Daniel Master, a professor at Wheaton College and co-director of the expedition in Ashkelon, said at the time.

After 108 sets of skeletal remains were excavated, and 10 had enough DNA to be studied in depth.

Master is also a co-author on the latest study.

Over the years, scientists at the Ashkelon site have excavated Philistine houses and delved into what they would have eaten and who they would have traded with. The new study gives us the closest look yet at the people themselves and sheds light on their unusual origins.