RAMAT GAN, Israel (Reuters) - An Israeli researcher said he has made a Goliath of a find -- the first archaeological evidence suggesting the biblical story of David slaying the Philistine giant actually took place.
A shard of pottery unearthed in a decade-old dig in southern Israel carried an inscription in early Semitic style spelling "Alwat and "Wlt," likely Philistine renderings of the name Goliath, said Aren Maeir, who directed the excavation.
"This is a groundbreaking find," he said of the rust-colored ceramic. "Here we have very nice evidence the name Goliath appearing in the Bible in the context of the story of David and Goliath ... is not some later literary creation."
Maeir, head of the archaeology department at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, told Reuters that his excavators found the shard, possibly part of a bowl, about two meters (6.5 ft) underground at Tell es-Shafi.
The mound where the dig took place is widely believed to be the site of the ancient city of Gath, which the Bible calls Goliath's hometown.
The biblical story of the epic Philistine giant's defeat at the hands of a much smaller David, who went on to become king of Israel, has long been a popular metaphor for the triumph of good over evil against all odds.
The specimen, from about 900 BC, isn't old enough to have belonged to Goliath, himself -- believed to have lived around 1,000 BC, Maeir said.
But he added: "It is the first time in the land of Israel that we have (found) the name Goliath, or a name like Goliath."
"I haven't found Goliath's skeleton with the hole in the center of his forehead, but it's the first archaeological evidence form a Philistine site which lends strong credibility" to the story, the U.S.-born researcher said.
The Book of Samuel I 17:4-10 spoke of "a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath," a heavily armed giant who challenged an Israelite soldier to a duel.
David, at the time a shepherd, took up Goliath's challenge and "prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone" (Samuel I 17:50).
Maeir said the shard is also the oldest Philistine inscription ever found in Israel.
"Up until now most of what we know about the Philistines is from the Bible's point of view. ... We get a very, very subjective view. They're the bad people, the barbarians, we don't get anything nice about them," he said.
"When we look at the Philistines from an archaeological point of view we get evidence of a very rich, dynamic, fascinating and advanced culture."
Maier said he spent several months verifying his find with other experts and planned to discuss it at a conference in the United States later this month.