- Associated Press - Friday, July 22, 2016

TROY, Ala. (AP) - Students from Alabama’s Troy University recently participated in an archaeological expedition that has shed new light on the origins of the Philistines, a race of people described in the Bible.

The dig uncovered what is believed to have been a Philistine cemetery in the area of Ashkelon, a site near Tel Aviv in modern-day Israel. The Bible describes the Philistines as the enemy of the ancient Israelites. Researchers believe the discovery could reveal more information about the Philistines and their origins.

Ashleigh Williams, of Enterprise, Alabama, was among the Troy students participating in the expedition. Williams said Troy students who had attended previous digs at the site convinced her to make the trip.

“I had to wait almost three years before I was able to go on this expedition, and when I was finally given the opportunity to go, Ashkelon became a life changing experience for me that I will always cherish,” she said.

Williams said putting together a skeleton in the field was one of the most memorable experiences she had on the trip.

“It occurred to me in that moment that I was uncovering a once living person that had family, friends, a home, and a story that was buried by time,” she said.

Williams, 20, is an anthropology major who intends to pursue forensic anthropology as a career.

In addition to the archaeological work, Williams said she also enjoyed interacting with the residents of the area.

“The people were very friendly, and patient with us,” she said. “They spoke to us in English, making the transaction easier. Restaurants had menus that were in English and Hebrew, so the language barrier was not that difficult.”

Clayton Johnson, also of Enterprise, participated in the expedition too. Johnson said he’s participated in digs in America, but there’s something different about participating in one in a place like Ashkelon.

“There’s something different about a 3,000 year old site as opposed to something that’s only 300 years old,” he said.

Johnson said expeditions provide a critical trial by fire for anthropology students.

“It can either solidify your commitment or change your mind,” he said. “You find out that you absolutely want to do this after getting up at 5 a.m. and spending all day in the field or that it’s not for you.”

According to the university, in 2012, Troy officially joined the Leon Levy Foundation, Harvard’s Semitic Museum, Boston College and Wheaton College in a consortium to continue an ongoing excavation that began in 1985 that teamed professional archaeologists with students and volunteers to conduct annual excavations of the ancient city about 35 miles south of Tel Aviv. The cemetery site where Troy students worked this year was found in 2013.

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Information from: The Dothan Eagle, https://www.dothaneagle.com

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