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Archaeologists are putting some flesh on the bones of the David and Goliath myth by shifting through layers of earth at the site in the Holy Land. While little physical evidence has ever been found to support the 3,000-year-old biblical story of David and Goliath, a team from Israel and Australia has been excavating 50 kilometres from Jerusalem in the city of Tell es-Safi, where Goliath was supposedly born. According to the bible, Goliath stood around three metres tall and lived in the 10th century BC in the ancient city of Gath, which is now modern day Tell es-Safi. It is one of the most enduring battles in history: the story of a simple shepherd boy who slays a Philistine giant and goes on to become king. But short of finding his bronze armour or a skull with a pebble-sized hole, historians may never prove that Goliath ever existed.
Team leader and biblical archaeologist Aaron Mayer from Israel's Bar-Ilan University says he is excited at what they found so far. "The question is how much was the story embellished," he said. "They haven't found David and they haven't found his armour and they haven't found Goliath or his head or anything of the sort. "I would say a Goliath-like people for sure existed here. You have evidence of an inscription which shows us two Goliath-like names at that time." The Tell es-Safi dig is one of the biggest excavations of its kind in the Holy Land. In recent years it has yielded a rich deposit of evidence that proves the Philistines lived there from prehistoric times and fought with the Israelites. Professor Mayer says at the very least, it provides an important cultural background for the story of Goliath. "I would say that probably a Goliath existed. For example, in the biblical text in one place it says that Goliath was killed by David," he said. "In another place it says that another guy by the name of Elhanan killed Goliath, so perhaps there was a battle between Goliath and someone else and at some stage David, as a king, took credit for it." But whatever the Bible says, Melbourne University archaeologist Louise Hitchcock is far from convinced. "Certainly we have a shepherd that has a name that might be linked with Goliath, but to be named Goliath from what I understand about the Philistines is like to have the name John Smith," she said. But Dr Hitchcock is convinced the archaeological evidence destroys another myth - the Philistines in name, she says, were far from Philistine by nature. "What we are learning from their art, from their decorated... style of pottery, iron working, they were a technologically sophisticated culture and artistic and cosmopolitan culture," she said. "So to be a Philistine is not really to be uncouth. To be a Philistine is to be cultured and civilised."
Many artifacts continue to be dug-up. Pieces of burnt material can be carbon-dated. Yehud coins, small silver coins from the brief period of Persian rule, bearing the Aramaic inscription 'Yehud', the Persian province of Judaea, have been found at the site. The coins date back 2300 years to before Alexander the Great and indicate a long-term presence of Jews in the fortress city. Such findings are expected to point to further evidence of the Kingdom of David and the presence of Jews as described in the Bible.