Arrowhead from biblical battle discovered in Goliath's hometown

This arrowhead is made out of cattle bone and was found in the remains of an ancient street in the lower city of Gath in what is now Israel.
This arrowhead is made out of cattle bone and was found in the remains of an ancient street in the lower city of Gath in what is now Israel. (Image credit: Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project)

A bone arrowhead found in the ancient Philistine city of Gath may have been fired off by the city's defenders as part of a last stand described in the Bible. 

According to the Hebrew Bible, a king named Hazael), who ruled the kingdom of Aram from around 842 B.C. to 800 B.C., conquered Gath (also known as Tell es-Safi) before marching on Jerusalem. "Hazael king of Aram went up and attacked Gath and captured it. Then he turned to attack Jerusalem," the Book of Kings says (2 Kings 12:17). 

Archaeological excavations at Gath, in what is now Israel, have revealed that massive destruction took place in the late ninth century B.C., the time when the Bible says Hazael conquered Gath, where the Philistines (enemies of the Israelites) lived. The Hebrew Bible describes Gath as the home of Goliath, the giant warrior killed by King David.

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The army of Hazael, king of Aram, may have marched through the lower city (shown here) when conquering Gath. (Image credit: Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project)

In 2019, archaeologists found a bone arrowhead in the remains of a street in the lower city that may have been fired by the city's defenders in a desperate attempt to stop Hazael's forces from taking Gath, a team of researchers wrote in a paper published recently in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology.

The arrowhead has an impact fracture on its tip, and the arrowhead "had been broken close to the mid-shaft, perhaps as a result of this impact," the archaeologists said The damage suggests the arrowhead hit a target, they added. 

The arrowhead was found in the remains of an ancient street that had houses around it. (Image credit: Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project)

Desparate manufacturing

This arrowhead may have been produced in a workshop in Gath that was frantically trying to manufacture as many bone arrowheads for the city's defenders as possible. 

The workshop, which was discovered in 2006, is located roughly 980 feet (300 meters) away from where the bone arrowhead was found. Inside this workshop, archaeologists uncovered several bones from the lower forelimbs and hind limbs of domestic cattle, suggesting that people in the workshop were in the process of making bone arrowheads. "The assemblage represents bones at different stages of working — from complete bones, waste, to almost finished products," the researchers wrote in the article. 

The defenders may have chosen cattle bone because the material was readily available and crafting a good arrowhead from it didn't take long. One of the researchers, Ron Kehati, a zooarchaeologist with the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project made a replica of the bone arrowhead in about an hour, study co-author Liora Kolska Horwitz, who is also a zooarchaeologist with the project, told Live Science. 

This workshop "may have functioned as an emergency, ad hoc production center to supply arrowheads to fight the forces of Hazael of Aram, who put the site under siege," the researchers wrote in the article. The team plans to resume excavations at the site this summer and future discoveries may provide more clues to the fall of Gath.  

Originally published on Live Science.

Owen Jarus
Live Science Contributor

Owen Jarus is a regular contributor to Live Science who writes about archaeology and humans' past. He has also written for The Independent (UK), The Canadian Press (CP) and The Associated Press (AP), among others. Owen has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Toronto and a journalism degree from Ryerson University.