The question of when the Philistines arrived in Canaan—and more generally when the Sea Peoples (of which the Philistines were one) arrived in the Levant—and just where they came from is finally being answered.

One key is an Egyptian wall relief (drawing, top) on the temple of Karnak, in Thebes. Long thought to have been commissioned by Pharaoh Ramesses II (1279–1212 B.C.), the relief has recently been shown to depict a series of campaigns conducted in Canaan in 1207 B.C. by Merenptah (1212–1202 B.C.), son of Ramesses II.a The scene shown here is of the siege of Ashkelon, identified as such by the hieroglyphics at top center. The desperate inhabitants beg for mercy while the battle rages below them. An oversize pharaoh dominates the right portion of the scene. What is crucial in this scene is that the inhabitants are depicted with the same dress as undoubted Canaanites in other, adjacent reliefs—and without the distinctive headgear and clothing with which the Philistines and other Sea Peoples are depicted in other Egyptian reliefs. The Philistines, we must therefore conclude, had not yet arrived in Canaan in 1207 B.C.

When they did arrive is shown by a second Egyptian wall relief, at Medinet Habu (shown in reconstruction above). The relief dates to about 1175 B.C., during the reign of Ramesses III (1182–1151 B.C.), and depicts a naval battle between Egyptian ships (left) and those of the Sea Peoples, including the Philistines (center and right), called Peleset in the hieroglyphics that accompany the relief. The Sea Peoples can be identified by their distinctive headgear, which consist of feathered headdresses.

At about the same time the battle recorded at Medinet Habu was taking place, a new type of pottery was making its appearance in Canaan. Known as Mycenaean IIIC1, or monochrome, pottery, it is Mycenaean in style but made of local clays. In Canaan, examples have been uncovered at Ashdod and Ekron, and now at Ashkelon. The photo above shows a portion of floor beneath a public building with columns that contained monochrome pottery. As the name implies, monochrome pottery is decorated with only a single color (black or red), such as in the sherds and on the inside of the carinated bowl (below), all dating to about 1175–1150 B.C. The profile drawing shows the carination, or the sharply angled body, of the bowl; the left half of the drawing shows the outside of the bowl, while the right half is a cutaway view showing the bowl’s thickness. The most commonly found decorations on the outside of Philistine monochrome pottery are antithetic spirals (that is, mirror-image spirals set next to each other—as in the first photo below) and horizontal bands; less common were net-patterned lozenges and wing motifs; on the interiors, they feature horizontal bands and spirals.

One level higher in the floor, dating to the latter half of the 12th century B.C., were examples of the next stage of pottery evolution, called Philistine bichrome. These are decorated in two colors, red and black, as in the pictures below. The top photo shows a bichrome bell-shaped bowl with wing motif uncovered in 1920–21 by the British archaeologists John Garstang and W. Phythian-Adams. Bichrome pottery frequently features antithetic spirals, red and black checkerboard patterns, birds and, rarely, fish.

Author Stager notes that after about 1175 B.C. the locally made monochrome pottery in Canaan began to diverge in style from the monochrome pottery that was being manufactured in the Aegean. Coupled with the evidence provided by the two Egyptian wall reliefs discussed above, Stager concludes that the Philistines were Aegean peoples—specifically Mycenaean Greeks—who came to Canann en masse in about 1175 B.C.