DNA Study Reveals Philistines Were Originally From Europe

Jul 3, 2019
Originally published on July 3, 2019 6:20 pm
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The Philistines, an ancient people described not so positively in scripture, went extinct centuries ago, but some of their DNA has survived. Scientists say it's helped them solve an ancient mystery. Where did the Philistines come from? NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: The Philistines are the bad guys in the Bible, like Goliath who confronted David in battle. They arrived in the Holy Land in the 12th century B.C. and disappeared from history 600 years later. Archaeologist Daniel Masters (ph) of Wheaton College in Illinois says his team wanted to know more.

DANIEL MASTER: The stories about the Philistines had always painted them as sort of these uncouth louts. And we use the term philistine in that way today.

ESTRIN: Archaeologists who dug the ancient Philistine city of Ashkelon found that they actually had an advanced artistic culture. The Bible says the Philistines immigrated to the Holy Land from a place in the West. Their pottery suggested the Aegean, but archaeologists found more direct evidence to sample - the bones of babies who they believe were born to the original Philistine immigrants who came from overseas in the 12th century. They sent samples to a DNA lab in Germany.

MASTER: These babies showed distinctive patterns of DNA that we find in the European Stone Age. And as we track those distinctive patterns of DNA, we find them in places like southern Europe. We find them in Italy or the Aegean, southern Spain, some of those places.

ESTRIN: It's DNA patterns you don't find in the ancient peoples of the Middle East.

MASTER: It's contemporary, direct, physical evidence that the Philistines immigrated into the region, and we're really excited that this is a breakthrough.

ESTRIN: Their research is in the journal Science Advances. Master's team also dug up another set of bones - Philistines who lived two centuries after their ancestors' migration. Their DNA shows they were intermarrying with the people around them, but they were still considered outsiders.

MASTER: Because in the Hebrew Bible, there are texts as late as the 8th and 7th century, and those texts remember that the Philistines came from the West and came from outside.

ESTRIN: Now the genetics back up those texts that the Philistines came from abroad. But the Philistines would eventually disappear from the area and from history, perhaps taken as captives to Babylon. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.