DNA Used to Trace Origins of Biblical Philistines

Photograph of infant burial at the Philistine Cemetery at Ashkelon. (Ilan Sztulman / Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon)

(CN) – A team of international scientists have used ancient DNA to shed some light on the origins of the Philistines, the arch enemies of the Israelites as told in the Hebrew Bible.

These findings, published Wednesday in Science Advances, stem from nearly three decades of archeological and genetic research, culminating in a study that dives into the genetic history of the Philistines.

The researchers detail the process of studying the remains and DNA of people who lived in the Bronze and Iron Ages in the ancient port city of Ashkelon, located in what is now southern Israel, some 3,000 years ago. Researchers led by Daniel M. Master, co-author of the study and director of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, studied this DNA data using highly advanced genome processing technology.

Using this data combined with previously established history information, researchers were able to make some remarkable discoveries on the Philistinian genetic history.

They found that around the dawn of the Iron Age, a massive migration event took the ancestors of the Philistines from Europe across the Mediterranean to Ashkelon. Once the Philistines arrived in Ashkelon, their DNA crossed with other local and foreign populations as the years progressed, according to the researchers

DNA evidence suggests the Levantines, a group local to Ashkelon and the surrounding areas, diluted the gene pool of the Philistines more than any other historical group.

“We find that, 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 researchers said in a statement. They suggest this dilution of the Philistines’ DNA is what made tracing the origins of the Philistines such a difficult task.

These genetic discoveries help to provide both a timetable and a geographical roadmap illuminating the path of the Philistines throughout history. Due to their prevalence in the Bible and several conflicting reports on their ancient historical roles, the origins of the Philistines have been hotly debated. This research, however, clears much of the debate by offering some critical information on the Philistines and their genetic past.

Master, the study co-author, did not immediately respond to request for comment by press time.

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