New Research Shows Surprising Facts About the Diet of Philistines

It’s long been understood that people from the Mediterranean used to import such things as precious stones, exotic oils, resins, and even fabrics from Asia. However, new research conducted on the dental plaque from excavated skeletons from the Middle Bronze to early Iron Age show signs that Philistines used to have a diet consisting of far-flung foods.

Philistines Spices
How the Discovery Was Made

Philipp Stockhammer, a co-author on the new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and an archaeologist at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, explains how this discovery was made. While dental plaque would normally be disregarded during archeological research, it’s now obvious that it can be used to determine many important factors, including one’s diet.

Researchers conducted the plaque studies on 16 skeletonsResearchers conducted the plaque studies on 16 skeletons, some of which were found in upper-class graves excavated from the ancient city-state Megiddo. Other skeletal remains involved in the research were taken from Tell Erani, which are the people that are referred to in the Bible as the Philistines. The burial practices there were simpler, reflecting less wealth than that of the neighboring areas.

MegiddoPhilistines Had a Diet Rich in Non-Local Produce

Using tooth plaque as a rich new source of information, researchers were surprised to find that ancient Philistines had a diet that consisted of such foods as turmeric, bananas, soybeans, sesame, and other crops native to South and East Asia. The dental plaque from the remains of a 50-year-old male in Tell Erani had traces of a protein that triggers banana ripening. Archeologists suspect that the people of Megiddo were likely importing dried banana chips which would more easily survive the trip.

Tell Erani
This type of research further reveals more clearly the extent to which long-distance travel and trade were practiced in prehistory. University of Haifa archaeologist and director of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, Ayelet Gilboa, who was not involved in this project, published research several years ago showing that cinnamon was present in jars found near Megiddo. She explains how these research efforts show that small societies of that time were operating within a vast trading network.