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Crusaders arriving from Europe in 1099 A.D. built a fortress on the remains of Gath. Later the site became home to an Arab village, Telel-Safi, which emptied during the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948. Today, Gath is in a national park.

An Israeli town founded in 1955 several miles to the south, Kiryat Gat, was named after Gath based on a misidentification of a different ruin as the Philistine city.

The memory of the Philistines - or a somewhat one-sided version - was preserved in the Hebrew Bible.

The hero Samson, who married a Philistine woman, skirmished with them repeatedly before being betrayed and taken, blinded and bound, to their temple at Gaza. There, the story goes, he broke free and shattered two support pillars, bringing the temple down and killing everyone inside, including himself.

One intriguing find at Gath is the remains of a large structure, possibly a temple, with two pillars. Mr. Maeir has suggested that this might have been a known design element in Philistine temple architecture when it was written into the Samson story.

Diggers at Gath also have found shards preserving names similar to Goliath - an Indo-European name, not a Semitic one of the kind that would have been used by the local Canaanites or Israelites. These finds show the Philistines, indeed, used such names and suggest that this detail, too, might be drawn from an accurate picture of their society.

Mr. Maeir said the findings at the site support the idea that the Goliath story faithfully reflects something of the geopolitical reality of the period - the often violent interaction of the powerful Philistines of Gath with the kings of Jerusalem in the frontier zone between them.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re one day going to find a skull with a hole in its head from the stone that David slung at him,” Mr. Maeir said, “but it nevertheless tells that this reflects a cultural milieu that was actually there at the time.”