Baylor Professor Helps Discover The Secrets Of The Philistines

July 28, 2016

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Media contact: Tonya Lewis, (254) 710-4656

WACO, Texas (July 28, 2016) — Deirdre Fulton, Ph.D., assistant professor of religion in Baylor University's College of Arts & Sciences, was part of the discovery and excavation of a Philistine cemetery outside Ashkelon, an ancient city in Israel that was occupied for more than 3,000 years.

This cemetery holds great significance both historically and biblically. It is the first Philistine cemetery to have been found, Fulton said, and with more than 200 bodies uncovered, the excavation offered researchers a chance to examine Philistine lifestyles and customs.

"While we know quite a lot about the Philistines through the eyes of their enemies, the Israelites, we do not know much about the Philistines through their own writings," Fulton said. "Uncovering the Philistine cemetery helps us understand more about the people who lived at Ashkelon in the Iron Age (1175-604 B.C.), specifically through an examination of their burial customs."

The Philistines seemed to bury their dead primarily in individual pits, though additional bodies were sometimes placed in the same grave at a later date. The dead were sometimes buried with small storage jars, bowls or jugs presumably once filled with perfumed oil. While the excavations revealed some bodies buried with their jewelry or weapons, it appeared that most were not accompanied by their personal goods.

The excavations might be able to help researchers discover exactly where the Philistines came from, according to a press release from the Leon Levy Expedition. The skeletons and items uncovered may relate the Philistines to other populations across the Mediterranean.

"After decades of studying what Philistines left behind, we have finally come face to face with the people themselves," said Daniel M. Master, professor of archaeology at Wheaton College, in a Leon Levy Expedition press release. "With this discovery, we are close to unlocking the secrets of their origins."

In the Bible, the Philistines are referred to as enemies to the Israelites, appearing in major events such as the stories of Samson and King David, Fulton said. Ashkelon is referenced at least twice in the Bible, in Joshua 13:3 and 1 Samuel 6:17, as one of five Philistine cities, and it was considered a major city from the Canaanite era (2000-1200 B.C.) until the Islamic and Crusader era (12th century).

Fulton worked with the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon for seven years. She served as the team's specialist in zooarchaeology, the study of the animal bone remains in archeological sites, and worked with more than 30 staff members from various universities and 40 volunteers consisting mostly of college students.

Ashkelon has been under excavation for the past 31 years, and the discovery of the cemetery concludes the team's work at the site.

"Ashkelon is a fascinating archaeological site that has yielded many important discoveries over the past 31 years of excavation," Fulton said. "Since the city was occupied for over 3,000 years, the Leon Levy excavations have uncovered many amazing finds."

With the closing of the Ashkelon excavations, Fulton is looking forward to moving onto a new project.

"I, along with most of the staff from the Ashkelon excavations, will be working on a new project in Israel next year: The Tel Shimron excavations," Fulton said.

Students interested in the project can visit the Tel Shimron Excavation website. To learn more about the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, visit their website.

by Karyn Simpson, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.