Biblical Bad Guy: Archaeologists Excavate Goliath’s Hometown

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Courtesy of Bar-Ilan University

Any one of thousands of smooth stones being excavated at Gath could be the one that toppled Goliath, the giant conquered by David via a slingshot outside the city.

While David went on to become the King of Israel, Goliath died on the spot (the beheading helped speed that process along) and with his death came the defeat of the Philistine people, as told in Chapter 17 of the Book of Samuel—as the Israelites chased them back to their home at Gath.

Archaeologists led by Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University continually find more information about Goliath’s kinfolk in Gath, a city in the Mediterranean coastal plains currently a national park. Summer excavation started this month and crews from the United States, Canada and other countries have found Philistine jugs with decorations common in ancient Greek art, which ties the Philistines to their origins in modern-day Greece.

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The work has uncovered clues to the Philistine culture, including that though they settled in Gath, now part of the Palestinian area the Gaza Strip, they kept their Greek roots, including worshipping those gods, enjoying that art and eating Greek food, specifically grass pea lentils. Ancient bones show they also ate pigs and dogs, animals deemed unclean in Jewish customs. And shards preserving names similar to Goliath show the Philistines used Indo-European names, not the same style as the neighboring Israelites.

The largest find in Gath to date is the remains of what might be a temple, complete with two pillars, an architectural style also described in the story of Samson as told in the Book of Judges.

Archaeologists have also found clues to army skirmishes in the form of a ditch and embankment built around the city by an attacking army that tie to the 9th century B.C., with could easily be the work of Aramean king Hazael’s conquering of the city as told in the Book of Kings.

From that attack until Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon taking the city in 604 B.C., not much has been known about how the Philistine people lived. Archaeologists say unearthing the current finds now sheds light on Gath’s culture then, also during the time of King David’s reign.

Now, about finding that slingshot.

MORE: Archaeology in Jerusalem: Digging up Trouble

Tim Newcomb is a contributor for TIME. Find him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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