Historians have long supposed that the Philistines—the perennial enemies of the Israelites in the books of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel—came to Canaan’s Mediterranean coast via the sea from various hypothetical points of origin. Thanks to a recent study of Philistine DNA, strong evidence now suggests that those proposing a departure point in southern Europe were correct. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:
In [a recent scientific article], an interdisciplinary team of scholars from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon proves that, coinciding with the arrival of the Philistines in Ashkelon in the 12th century BCE, there was an influx of southern European genetic material into the local population. DNA analysis was completed on samples from three periods within the Bronze and Iron ages (approximately 3,600–2,800 years ago) from remains of Canaanites and early and late Philistines, which were taken from three sites: a Philistine cemetery discovered in 2016, graves discovered in the 1990s, and infant burials uncovered under Philistine homes.
The Philistines’ ancestors, said Daniel Master, [the head archaeologist involved in the study], left their southern Mediterranean homelands during a time of flux: it was the [putative] period of the Trojan War; with the collapse of the “heroic empires” in the 13th and 12th centuries BCE, these Philistine migrants sought a new life in a new land. They primarily settled in five cities—Ashkelon, Gaza, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron—along or close to the southern coast of modern Israel. “They are survivors who set up a new life for themselves, which lasted for six centuries,” said Master.
With the new DNA study, researchers are getting ever closer to pinpointing the Philistines’ exact origins, but require more ancient DNA samples from the Aegean to provide a precise location. Cautious not to overreach from the study’s general impressions, Master said that there are “better matches from Crete,” emphasizing that until there are more samples available, “at the moment we cannot prove the specific location whence they came.”