Ancient DNA sheds light on the origins of the Biblical Philistines

Ancient DNA sheds light on the origins of the Biblical Philistines
Excavation of the Philistine Cemetery at Ashkelon. Credit: Melissa Aja, Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

An international team led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the Leon Levy Expedition have retrieved and analyzed genome-wide data from people who lived during the Bronze and Iron Ages (~3,600 to 2,800 years ago) in the ancient port city of Ashkelon, one of the core Philistine cities during the Iron Age. The team found that a European-derived ancestry was introduced in Ashkelon around the time of the Philistines' estimated arrival, suggesting that ancestors of the Philistines migrated across the Mediterranean, reaching Ashkelon by the early Iron Age. This European genetic component was subsequently diluted by the local Levantine gene pool over the succeeding centuries, suggesting intensive admixture between local and foreign populations. These genetic results, published in Science Advances, are a critical step toward understanding the long-disputed origins of the Philistines.

The Philistines are famous for their appearance in the Hebrew Bible as the arch-enemies of the Israelites. However, the tell little about the Philistine origins other than a later memory that the Philistines came from Caphtor (a Bronze Age name for Crete; Amos 9:7). More than a century ago, Egyptologists proposed that a group called the Peleset in texts of the late 12th century BCE were the same as the Biblical Philistines. The Egyptians claimed that the Peleset traveled from the "the islands," attacking what is today Cyprus and the Turkish and Syrian coasts, finally attempting to invade Egypt.

These hieroglyphic inscriptions were the first indication that the search for the origins of the Philistines should be focused in the late second millennium BCE. From 1985 to 2016, the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, a project of the Harvard Semitic Museum, took up the search for the origin of the Philistines at Ashkelon, one of the five Philistine cities according to the Hebrew Bible. Led by its founder, the late Lawrence E. Stager, and then by Daniel M. Master, an author of the study and director of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, the team found substantial changes in ways of life during the 12th century BCE, which they connected to the arrival of the Philistines. Many scholars, however, argued that these cultural changes were merely the result of trade or a local imitation of foreign styles, and not the result of a substantial movement of people.

This new study represents the culmination of more than 30 years of archaeological work and of using state-of-the-art technologies, concluding that the advent of the Philistines in the southern Levant involved a movement of people from the west during the Bronze to Iron Age transition.

Ancient DNA sheds light on the origins of the Biblical Philistines
Excavation of the Philistine Cemetery at Ashkelon Credit: Melissa Aja. Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Genetic discontinuity between the Bronze and Iron Age people of Ashkelon

The researchers successfully recovered genomic data from the remains of 10 individuals who lived in Ashkelon during the Bronze and Iron Age. This data allowed the team to compare the DNA of the Bronze and Iron Age people of Ashkelon to determine how they were related. The researchers found that individuals across all time periods derived most of their ancestry from the local Levantine gene pool, but that individuals who lived in early Iron Age Ashkelon had a European derived ancestral component that was not present in their Bronze Age predecessors.

Ancient DNA sheds light on the origins of the Biblical Philistines
Photograph of infant burial at the Philistine Cemetery at Ashkelon. Credit: Ilan Sztulman, Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

"This genetic distinction is due to European-related gene flow introduced in Ashkelon during either the end of the Bronze Age or the beginning of the Iron Age. This timing is in accord with estimates of the Philistines arrival to the coast of the Levant, based on archaeological and textual records," explains Michal Feldman of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, leading author of the study. "While our modeling suggests a southern European gene pool as a plausible source, future sampling could identify more precisely the populations introducing the European-related component to Ashkelon."

Transient impact of the "European related" gene flow

In analyzing later Iron Age individuals from Ashkelon, the researchers found that the European-related component could no longer be traced. "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," states Choongwon Jeong of the Max Planck Institute of the Science of Human History, one of the corresponding authors of the study.

The Future of the Past - Research Insights: Ancient DNA sheds light on the origins of the Biblical Philistines. Credit: Max-Planck-Institute for the Science of Human History

"While, according to ancient texts, the people of Ashkelon in the first millennium BCE remained "Philistines' to their neighbors, the distinctiveness of their genetic makeup was no longer clear, perhaps due to intermarriage with Levantine groups around them," notes Master.

"This data begins to fill a temporal gap in the genetic map of the southern Levant," explains Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, senior author of the study. "At the same time, by the zoomed-in comparative analysis of the Ashkelon genetic time transect, we find that the unique cultural features in the early Iron Age are mirrored by a distinct genetic composition of the early Iron Age people."


Explore further

Genetic study proves Israel's wild boars originated in Europe

More information: M. Feldman el al., "Ancient DNA sheds light on the genetic origins of early Iron Age Philistines," Science Advances (2019). advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0061
Journal information: Science Advances

Provided by Max Planck Society
Citation: Ancient DNA sheds light on the origins of the Biblical Philistines (2019, July 3) retrieved 23 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-07-ancient-dna-biblical-philistines.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
4 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

HTK
Jul 03, 2019
The Arabs who are claiming to be Palestine must be rolling in their graves spreading lies. Real Philistines died out a long time ago and this is the scientific evidence. LOL. I always knew they were wiped off the face of the earth.

Jul 03, 2019
The Arabs who are claiming to be Palestine must be rolling in their graves spreading lies. Real Philistines died out a long time ago and this is the scientific evidence. LOL. I always knew they were wiped off the face of the earth.

We must have read different articles. Your conclusions are not supported by the words I read. The Philistines of the Bible were culturally different and that culture is what has lead to modern differences. The genetic origins are the least important thing.

Jul 03, 2019
As for the genetic science, well and good. But the connection between the genetic data and the later invented myths is pseudoscience.

@HTK: I don't see the connection between a - still unverified - group and Palestine before the Ottomans gave up the latter after WWI. Arabs ruled the area for 900 years before the Turks. Plenty of generations of Arab ancestry "real Palestine" citizens in there.

Jul 03, 2019
There is no "PH" in the Arabic languages, so that the actual spelling in English should have been 'FILISTINES" or something similar. The descendants of the Filistines did not just disappear, obviously. They intermarried with other tribes of the region. Some of them remained in what is now Israel. Others went to Syria and Jordan. Those who remained in Israel became Jews, if they weren't subjected to the abuses and threats by the Islamic horde in the 6th-7th centuries A.D.
Other than much of Genesis and the New Testament, the Bible is the history of the people who were descended from Abraham and his half-sister/wife, Sarah. While Abraham and Sarah's descendants were marrying their close relatives such as close cousins, they were of the same stock. But when his great-grandsons began marrying women who were not related to them as blood-relatives, their children were no longer of the Hebrew tribe, for it is through the female side that it is passed on. Most in Israel are not Jews.

Jul 03, 2019
For those of you who are unaware, the modern day word "Palestinian" directly comes from the word "Philistine". And interesting to note that in modern day Israel Jews almost fully occupy the land held by the Philistines in the past, and the Palestinians occupy land that had been where Israelites lived in the past. The Arabs who now call themselves the modern "Philistines" are in fact not that at all, but invaders from surrounding countries. This DNA analysis proves it.

Jul 03, 2019
Surveillance, you seem a little confused. Abraham was the father not only of Israel, but also of all of the Arabs. You need to go down 2 generations to Jacob to get the true father of Israel. And while it is true today that Jews claim ancestry through their mother's side, in fact in the Bible times it was the opposite.

Jul 03, 2019
@Bart
Abraham & Sarah originated outside of Ur which is in what is now Iraq. They left their family and traveled to what is now Israel. The people in that area where they stopped were Filistines who owned the region, which is why Abraham was allowed to purchase the cave in which Sarah was laid to rest. Abraham and his wife were not Arabs. They were more Persian, as Iran is the next country by Iraq. The Filistines of that time were idol worshippers, and Abraham taught them about the Creator God, which they later also worshipped.
But after the great-grandsons of Abraham went to Egypt due to the famine, they intermarried there, so that when after many decades of living in Egypt, their leader Moses brought them back into the land where Abraham had settled. By then, the Filistines were also settled and resented that this tribe from Egypt had come in to steal their land - Filistine land. There was still no Israel at that time. And when the tribe that had come out of Egypt claiming to...

Jul 03, 2019
...claiming to OWN the land of the Filistines, the tribe from Egypt was able to defeat the Filistines and overcome them to take possession of Filistine land. Then later, the land was divided in two, where one was called Israel, and the other was called Judah.

But the main point is that the land that is now Israel had always been Filistine land, not Jewish or Israel owned.
Abraham's family back in the region of Ur just happened to be idol-worshippers. It was only when an Angel spoke to Abraham to tell him to leave his family and travel to the West, that he changed his religion and learned of the Creator God. Before that, all the humans for centruries had forgotten their past, which is why they began to worship idols.

Jul 03, 2019
For those of you who are unaware, the modern day word "Palestinian" directly comes from the word "Philistine". And interesting to note that in modern day Israel Jews almost fully occupy the land held by the Philistines in the past, and the Palestinians occupy land that had been where Israelites lived in the past. The Arabs who now call themselves the modern "Philistines" are in fact not that at all, but invaders from surrounding countries. This DNA analysis proves it.


In the 6th-7th centuries A.D., Mohammad ordered his armies to invade Israel and surrounding regions to force the people to convert to Islam, which was headquartered in Saudi Arabia at the time. Many of the Palestinians of today are the descendants of that invading army of Muslims who FORCED the Filistines living in the area to convert - or die. In the 6th century, there was no such things as a Muslim. Islam did not exist. So that when Mohammad's army of Arabs arrived and took over the region, they....

Jul 03, 2019
....they did the usual thing that armies did in those days - they raped the Filistine AND Jewish women. Some who resisted were killed; while others became pregnant and the fathers were Arab soldiers.
By the way, all the Arabs, Filistines, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese are SEMITES. So that when you hear the cry of 'ANTISEMITISM', that would include all of the above people of the Near East. In Israel, there are Orthodox Jews whose complexions are white-as-a-ghost. And yet, they consider themselves as Semites even though their ancestry originated in Russia, Ukraine and Poland. To me, it is like someone had decided to play a joke on humanity and referred to those who are genetically Russians as Semites. Semite/Semitic clearly denotes a genetically inherited race. while Jewish denotes an inherited RELIGION...NOT necessarily genetic.

Jul 04, 2019
Surveillance, your timeline is wrong. According to the most recent archaeological studies, the Philistines did not arrive in Israel until about 1200 BC. They suddenly appear in the biblical narrative from the time of the judges. According to the biblical timeline, Abraham was born around 1996 BC. So Abraham could not have taught them anything as they weren't there yet. And of course Abraham was not Arabic, as he was the father of the Arabs, and many other nations.

Maybe you are referring to other nations that occupied the land before that, like the Amelekites and the Hittites. Calling everyone Philistines is confusing.

Jul 04, 2019
htk, do you understand that your argument discredits white American claims to everything west of Newfoundland?

actually. my understanding is that the majority of Palestinians are descended from Egyptian peasants imported by Turks over the centuries
to work the land

the modern Israelis if course are mostly white European & British descent
with a large percentage of Ladinos & Hebrew tribes from Arabic countries.

& since Egypt once ruled the territory that became Isreal & Judah?
by your interpretation
the modern Palestinian descendants of Egyptian peasants
have the more legitimate claim to the land...

Jul 04, 2019
"Ancient DNA sheds light on the origins of the Biblical Philistines"

-Biblical exegesis, hermeneutics, and a century of archeology shed light on the origins of the BIBLICAL philistines... being the scheming minds of ruthless priests and scribes.

"On the basis of the LXX's regular translation into "allophyloi", Robert Drews states that the term "Philistines" means simply "non-Israelites of the Promised Land" when used in the context of Samson, Saul and David..."

-Three mythical kings who never existed. If they did then there would be scads of evidence, which there isn't. Only scads of contrary evidence saying that other things were going on at the time which would make their existence impossible.

Lie upon lie upon lie.

Jul 04, 2019
According to the biblical timeline, Abraham was born around 1996 BC. So Abraham could not have taught them anything as they weren't there yet
Jesus has a special place in his heart for believers who choose to remain ignorant of his book.

"seven of the eight times that the Philistines are mentioned in Genesis, they are discussed in connection with either Abraham's visit with Abimelech, king of the Philistines (21:32,34), or with Isaac's visit to the same city (Gerar) a few years later (26:1,8,14-15,18). For some time now, critics of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch have considered the mention of the Philistines—so early in human history—to be anachronistic..."

-anachronistic, as in bald faced lies by ruthless priests and scribes.

Jul 04, 2019
There is no "PH" in the Arabic languages, so that the actual spelling in English should have been 'FILISTINES" or something similar
-Ms Sickness thinks she is the only one in the world who knows how to represent the philistine myth correctly in print, and unknowingly appropriates the chaldean word for '4'.

Public Service Announcement - block this flooding freak to avoid such blinding ignorance and make scrolling much easier.

Jul 04, 2019
As for the genetic science, well and good. But the connection between the genetic data and the later invented myths is pseudoscience.

@HTK: I don't see the connection between a - still unverified - group and Palestine before the Ottomans gave up the latter after WWI. Arabs ruled the area for 900 years before the Turks. Plenty of generations of Arab ancestry "real Palestine" citizens in there.


sovereignty passed from Ottoman to UK to Israel. Anyone that didn't stay to defend in
48 is an invader.

Jul 04, 2019
so shootownfoot
if i understand you correctly?
when your house is on fire?

& you flee, hoping the firemen will rescue your family
& provide you all with a temporary shelter?

then, before you can return to reclaim your property?
some strangers move into the damaged dwelling
telling you & your family
Are now to live in the backyard doghouse?

after a few years, the strangers living in "their" claimed house come & tell you that you all will have to move away
they now want the home
you made of the doghouse

so shootownfoot, you would be okay submitting to those extortionate demands?

seems to me you are being very hypocritical in the double standard of your self-contradictory beliefs.

& i do wonder at your lack of moral character?

Jul 05, 2019
bible is not history book , Abraham and others was not real people

Jul 05, 2019
jeebus jania
next thing we know?
you will be insisting that
star dreck & star bores are not revealing historical events!

Jul 07, 2019
Surveillance, your timeline is wrong. According to the most recent archaeological studies, the Philistines did not arrive in Israel until about 1200 BC. They suddenly appear in the biblical narrative from the time of the judges. According to the biblical timeline, Abraham was born around 1996 BC. So Abraham could not have taught them anything as they weren't there yet. And of course Abraham was not Arabic, as he was the father of the Arabs, and many other nations.

Maybe you are referring to other nations that occupied the land before that, like the Amelekites and the Hittites. Calling everyone Philistines is confusing.
says Bart_A

I think that you are one of those Christians who believes that the Earth is only 6k - 7k years old, which is probably why you would say that Filistines weren't occupying any part of the land until 1200BC. Filistines were only one of the nomadic tribes in the region.
-contd-

Jul 07, 2019
-contd-
@Bart
When the Hebrews came out of Egypt, the first tribe that they met after they had wandered in the desert for 40 years as punishment, were the Filistines, whom they defeated. There were clashes with other Semitic tribes and they were also overcome.
The timelines in the Hebrew Bible are often error-filled. Most often such errors are the fault of Christian biblical scholar/writers who sought to give credence to the Christian belief that the Earth, Sun and Stars were only 6,000 to 7,000 years old, which meant that they had to truncate the timelines between biblical events. IOW, every biblical event had to have happened within that 6k - 7k years that the Christians had calculated from the births and deaths of the characters in Genesis. That would mean that the Earth, Stars and the Cosmos only came into existence ~7,000 years before the time of the Christian version was written.
Bart, such errors of biblical history written by these authors is truly wrong.

Jul 07, 2019
--contd
@Bart
In biblical times and before that, there was very little knowledge of events in terms of millions and billions of years. Even reckoning in the thousands was not understood well by the majority of citizens of the tribes. So that when you say that Abraham was born in about 1996 BC., that would make the birth of Abraham at about 3996 years before the present plus 19 years. That would also make it that Abraham was born approx. 3000 years after the world began, and that would be according to the Evangelical Christian belief in the Earth, etc. only being ~7000 yrs old.
So the actual datelines written down by the early authors of the Christian Bible were largely in error, even though the events themselves and the characters in those events were accurate. Human authors sometimes tend to exaggerate events and/or timelines. It is a human thing, almost like lying. The Christian Bible mimics the Hebrew Pentateuch, but for that 7000 years calculated.

Jul 07, 2019
bible is not history book , Abraham and others was not real people
says janla

The Bible is a history of the Hebrews who descended from Abraham and his half-sister/wife, Sarah. From them came Isaac who married his cousin, Rebecca; and the son of Isaac and Rebecca was Jacob who married his cousin, Rachel (and was tricked into marrying Rachel's sister, Leah also). And Jacob and his wives, Rachel and Leah had, in all 11 sons and a daughter, who went down to Egypt because of the famine in their own land. From their descendants are the Hebrews who left Egypt to claim their "promised land". They are as real as George Washington and Joe Biden. :)

Jul 07, 2019
Dates as they were perceived at the time

SEU
So these biblical dates are true
In biblical times and before that, there was very little knowledge of events in terms of millions and billions of years. Even reckoning in the thousands was not understood well by the majority of citizens of the tribes. So that when you say that Abraham was born in about 1996 BC., that would make the birth of Abraham at about 3996 years before the present plus 19 years. That would also make it that Abraham was born approx. 3000 years after the world began, and that would be according to the Evangelical Christian belief in the Earth, etc. only being ~7000 yrs old

These biblical dates
Are
As true as these native tribes knew of numerals and mathematics
Just
As we native tribes of today know these galaxies are billions of Lys away
For in future years to come, SEU
Our descendants
Will look back on us today
And
Exclaim
Did they really believe this universe was really only 15billion years old?

Jul 07, 2019
@granville
Simple arithmetic was known in biblical times (Hebrew history) and even before that. It was really a matter of counting how many sheep and goats were owned by any one nomadic sheepherder. As it is unlikely that an owner had much more than a thousand sheep or goats, they never got up to the million mark. Higher maths came much later with, I believe, Ptolemy who was no sheepherder. Obviously, Ptolemy had good teachers and plenty of time to figure out and understand geometry, algebra, etc. A boy who is responsible for a flock of sheep has no such luxury.
In Genesis of the Christian bible, it was claimed that the Creator made everything within 6 days, and on the 7th day He rested. Some believe that the 7th day was a Saturday, but that can't be, because the word Saturday was named after planet Saturn, which was a Roman god, IIRC. So those who think that Saturday is the day of rest may be wrong.
But the problem is that 7000 years age of the Earth that is claimed.

Jul 07, 2019
-contd-
@granville

Now we all KNOW that the Earth, Stars, Universe is far older than 7k Earth years. But as I've said, Evangelical Christians took the ages of the characters in Genesis, added them up and somehow came up with 7k. That was from the time of the creation of Adam & Eve, the first human man and woman. But somehow, they did NOT reckon the years/timeframes BEFORE Adam & Eve were created. Genesis clearly states that the Creator God brought the animals to Adam so that he could name them, and so he did. But none of the animals that had existed already (possibly a few monkeys amongst them too) were good enough for Adam as his companion, so that his female counterpart had to be created.
But the point is that there were already animals in existence, so that the Earth already existed PRIOR to Adam & Eve, which was supposed to be the 6th day, according to the 6-day creation.
So, the Evangelicals go along with a 6-day creation and a 7000 year Earth history. And before that,

Jul 08, 2019
@granville
And before that, only our Sect knew the Truth.
The OTHERS also know that Truth.
But humans in those biblical days didn't know about the Cosmic timeframe, and only reckoned the course of events by the cycles of sunrise to sunrise - the 24 hour cycle aka the 24 hour clock.
If they had known about the Cosmic cycle, they would have understood the 13.8 billion years existence of the Cosmos. But what could one expect of sheepherders.

Jul 08, 2019
@granville
pssst Don't let anyone else know, but THIS Universe is far older than 15 billion Earth years. It is Earth years that scientists use and go by mathematically. I said EARTH years. In Cosmic years, the Universe is more like 1 TRILLION Cosmic years old.
Matter/Energy recycles and can be transformed back and forth endlessly and never destroyed.
Everything gets recycled. EVERYTHING

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more