In recent years, excavations in Israel established that the Philistines had fine pottery, handsome architecture and cosmopolitan tastes. If anything, they were more refined than the shepherds and farmers in the nearby hills, the Israelites, who slandered them in biblical chapter and verse and rendered their name a synonym for boorish, uncultured people.
Archaeologists have now found that not only were Philistines cultured, they were also literate when they arrived, presumably from the region of the Aegean Sea, and settled the coast of ancient Palestine around 1200 B. C.
At the ruins of a Philistine seaport at Ashkelon in Israel, excavators examined 19 ceramic pieces and determined that their painted inscriptions represent a form of writing. Some of the pots and storage jars were inscribed elsewhere, probably in Cyprus and Crete, and taken to Ashkelon by early settlers. Of special importance, one of the jars was made from local clay, meaning Philistine scribes were presumably at work in their new home.
Dr. Cross said in an interview that several signs in the Ashkelon inscriptions “fit in with well-known Cypro-Minoan,” in particular from artifacts recovered at sites in Cyprus and at Ugarit, in Syria. He said the script had some characteristics of Linear A, the writing system used in the Aegean from 1650 B. C. to 1450 B. C. This undeciphered script was supplanted by another, Linear B, which was identified with the Minoan civilization of Crete and was finally decoded in the mid-20th century.
“We can’t read the inscription, and that’s true as well of Cypro-Minoan writing found on Cyprus,” Dr. Cross said. “We will need a lot more samples before we can think of deciphering it.”