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(Ar., Tell el-Qadi),

site located at the northeast end of the Hula Valley, at the foot of Mt. Hermon and at the headwaters of the Jordan River's most important source (map reference 2112 × 2949). The site is a rectangular, crater-shaped mound that was formed by massive ramparts constructed in the Early and Middle Bronze Ages. It was first identified with biblical Laish/Dan by Edward Robinson In 1838, an identification that has been accepted unanimously since. A bilingual (Greek-Aramaic) stone inscription found at the site also refers to the place name Dan. Laish is mentioned in the Egyptian Execration texts, where its king, Horon-Ab is named, and in the Mari texts, in connection with Hazor, in correspondence concerning tin shipments. [See Mari Texts.] Later, in the fifteenth century BCE, Laish is again mentioned in the list of cities conquered by the Egyptian king Thutmosis III. Dan is extensively referred to in the Bible, particularly in passages reflecting the Iron Age milieu (e.g., Jos. 19:47; Jgs. 18; 1 Kgs. 12:29–31, 15:16 ff.). The latest ancient reference is that in the Onomasticon of Eusebius (entry no. 369), who located the place 4 mi. from Panias (Banias).

Trial excavations at the site were carried out In 1963 by Zeev Yeivin, and In 1966 salvage excavations were initiated by the Israel Department of Antiquities under the direction of Avraham Biran. In 1974 the project was transferred to the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology of the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, still under Biran's directorship. As of 1995 the expedition was still active. Seven excavation areas were opened: A, B, H, K, M, T, and Y. All areas except H and M straddle the perimeter of the tell, exposing the Bronze Age fortifications. The fortifications enclose springs on the west side of the tell, where a high water table and dense vegetation thwart excavation.

Neolithic Period (Stratum XVI).

The earliest occupation discerned at Tel Dan dates to the Pottery Neolithic (PN) period, perhaps early in the Wadi Rabah phase (c. 5000 BCE). Occupation remains were encountered in area B, where a deep probe at the base of the MB rampart core reached bedrock. Five stratigraphic phases were distinguished here in 2 m of accumulation. A subsurface infant burial in a jar was uncovered. Significant quantities of PN material were also found in areas M and T, in the fills of the lowest levels, indicating a fairly extensive area of habitation. The material culture features a characteristic flint industry, worked-basalt objects, bone utensils, and pottery—including several complete vessels—of plain, slipped and burnished, and incised wares.

Early Bronze Age (Strata XV–XIV).

Surprisingly, Tel Dan seems to be almost devoid of Chalcolithic and EB I occupation. (The exceptions are three or four sherds and a possible “violin figurine,” all from fills, objects that may have been transported from elsewhere in a later period.) This implies at least fifteen hundred years of abandonment. EB remains have been found in all the deep exposures (areas A, B, K, M, T, Y)—even those outside the limits of later fortifications—attesting that the EB settlement was the most extensive of all. Massive stone and brick fortifications are in evidence on the north and east side of the tell and there is a possible gate complex in area K. The pottery sequence makes Dan a type-site for distinguishing earlier (EB II or early EB III) from later (EB III) assemblages. Key finds include animal figurines, models of couches, cylinder-seal impressions (one of the largest groups in the Levant), a bone cylinder, Khirbet Kerak ware, and metal implements. [See Seals.]

Middle Bronze Age (Strata XII–IX).

Tel Dan was occupied during the Intermediate Bronze Age (EB IV), but without leaving more than some flimsy wall remains and pottery sherds. It is not yet possible to say whether there was a gap in settlement over parts of this period or whether it was partially contemporary with either the previous Early Bronze Age or the subsequent Middle Bronze Age. The MB is represented by four strata (IX–XII) that, in area B, achieved an accumulation of 4–5 m, excluding the interior embankment.

The most prominent features of the MB occupation are its robust fortifications and its uniquely intact mud-brick gate. The initial phases of settlement in stratum XII utilized the remains of the existing EB fortification. Late in this stratum, or perhaps in stratum XI, these fortifications were supplemented by additional embankments and superstructures on the north and east; on the south, a new rampart was constructed by erecting, in stages, a vertical stone core with embankments sloping down to either side. This core was 6.5 m thick and preserved to a height of 10.5 m. The width of the rampart at its base was approximately 50 m. The upper part of the rampart has long since eroded away, and it is not known whether it was crowned with a freestanding wall.

A triple-arched mud-brick gate flanked by two towers may have been built at the same time, possibly on the site of an earlier EB gate. At the time of its discovery, it was preserved almost to its original height. This edifice had been plastered in antiquity. Apparently, however, it was unstable and prone to collapse, as evidence was found of unsuccessful attempts at shoring it up. In the end, it was blocked up and covered by the earthen embankment, resulting in the gate's almost total preservation. A new gate, of stone this time, was apparently built in area AB on the tell's south crest.

The remains inside the MB ramparts (and under them, in the case of stratum XII) seem comprised of rather prosaic courtyard dwellings with baking ovens and cooking and storage facilities. Some of these may have had more than one story. Particularly evocative were the stone-built chamber and cist tombs and infants buried in jars under the floors. No extramural cemetery was found, though a few MB I and II tombs have been found at the nearby sites of Hagoshrim, Gonen, and Kefar Szold. The chamber tombs (of which three were excavated) accommodated the remains of adult and adolescent males and females and included the richest finds: pottery, weapons, bone-inlaid boxes, scarabs, jewelry, and food offerings. Cist tombs held the remains of children above the age of two years and jar burials contained infants or fetuses. The latter two burial types usually included one or two pottery vessels and a scarab or so. These practices appear to be indicative of social status dependent on age. The artifacts from both the tombs (which contain many complete forms) and the floors above them provide a long sequence of material culture from which both typological development and social evolution can be inferred. The MB settlement was destroyed by a great conflagration sometime in the sixteenth or early fifteenth century BCE. [See Tombs; Grave Goods.]

Late Bronze Age (Strata VIII-VII).

Inside the perimeter of the MB fortifications, LB remains were found in all areas where sufficient depth was attained: stratum VIII represents the LB I and stratum VII the LB II. The occupational remains of stratum VIII were built over the destruction layer of the previous MB stratum and exhibit a similar material culture and a continuation of mortuary practices. At this time the first evidence for metallurgy is found at Tel Dan in the form of melting furnaces, crucibles, slags (especially in area B), and a mold. In area K, a portion of a well-preserved stone-built structure was excavated that contained a terra-cotta mask, a javelin head, and the aforementioned mold (for a scepter?).

Stratum VII was often truncated by the pitting and building activities of the subsequent Iron I strata, VI and V. Its remains testify, however, to public architecture and some degree of wealth. A flagstone pavement or street bordered by structures on either side extended north from the area AB gate. A terra-cotta plaque depicting a dancing figure playing a musical instrument was found under this pavement. During this stage, a metallurgy industry based chiefly on recycling copper and bronze is indicated in areas B and Y by furnaces, slags, blowpipe nozzles, and the like. However, the most impressive assemblage of this period (fourteenth-thirteenth centuries BCE) was found in a large, corbelled, stone-built tomb (T.387) in the MB style, the so-called “Mycenaean tomb.” Approximately forty individuals—men, women, and children—were interred over time, with older burials pushed aside to make room for later burials and offerings. Almost five hundred objects were counted among the burial goods, including sheep or goat bones (meat offerings), 108 pottery vessels—28 of which were imported from either the Aegean or Cyprus—alabaster and basalt vessels, bronze tools, weapons and vessels, decorated bone and ivory items, and glass, silver, and gold jewelry.

Iron I (Strata VI-V).

Some indications of continuity from the previous period appear in the Iron I strata. In general, pottery forms and metal utensils are clearly descended from LB types. Metallurgy remained an important aspect of the economy, though the Iron I industrial remains are more extensive than those of the previous period. In Iron I the emphasis is on intensive recycling, and there was a cultic association in area AB in the form of a small appended sanctuary containing such ceremonial objects as a miniature shrine. Nevertheless, important differences and innovations are also present. Myriad deep, often stone-lined, pits are featured in almost all of the excavated areas. Frequently these contained a wide variety and large number of pottery vessels—from large pithoi to small pyxides—animal bones, organic residues, and ash. Particularly suggestive are the many collared-rim pithoi found with pithoi of Galilean and Phoenician types. The collared-rim pithoi are most at home in the central highlands of Samaria and are rare in the north of the country, except at Dan and at a few sites in the eastern, Upper Galilee highlands. Their significant presence at Dan has been attributed to the migration of the tribe of Dan described in Judges 18. [See Ceramics, article on Syro-Palestinian Ceramics of the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Ages.]

The floors and architecture of stratum VI (c. twelfth century BCE) were rarely preserved, except for pits. This occupation seems to have been a more ephemeral one, but the lack of preservation is chiefly the result of heavy building and leveling in stratum V (late twelfth-mid-eleventh centuries BCE), one of the most substantial levels at Tel Dan. Stratum V shows a dense array of domestic and industrial architecture in almost every area of the tell. Some of these structures were clearly two stories high. This stratum was destroyed in a great conflagration that apparently enveloped the entire tell, resulting in a rich and varied assemblage of artifacts. Interestingly enough, no burial remains were found from this or the succeeding Iron Age.

Iron Age II (Strata IV–II).

Dan's eminence as a cultic center for the Israelite kingdom was responsible for its more or less continuous prosperity and growth in Iron II. The high place in area T and the gate complexes in areas A and AB show a series of major building phases that utilized fine construction and masonry techniques. The excavator discerned three major building phases in the Iron II high place and attributed them to prominent Israelite kings:

  • 1. Bāmâ A: Dating to the late tenth century BCE (Jeroboam I), the stratum-IV bāmâ is represented by a row of massive rectangular dressed stones laid out under the southern foundations of bāmâ B. An ashlar-constructed altar platform, a libation installation (or olive press), and several other richly endowed rooms were associated with this massive substructure.
  • 2. Bāmâ B: The ninth-century BCE (stratum III, reign of Ahab) bāmâ gave the structure its present form. It is comprised of headers and stretchers dressed with margins in the classic royal Israelite fashion found at Samaria and Megiddo. Cedar beams were integrated at horizontal intervals (cf. 1 Kgs 7:12). The altar platform was augmented and a belt of chambers erected around the temple podium and altar precinct, creating an enclosed temenos (or altering the previous one). The in situ work of the stonemasons left a thick yellow travertine floor surrounding this stage's structures.
  • 3. Bāmâ C: The eighth century BCE (stratum II, reign of Jeroboam II) bāmâ represents a phase of minor alterations and supplements. It was also the phase that revealed a series of cultic objects—altars, incense shovels, a scepter head, and sacrificial remains—in the exterior belt of rooms surrounding the cultic precinct. This was also the stage to which most of the epigraphic material could be attributed.


DAN. Figure 1. Aramaic inscription fragment. Found in the wall bordering the outer Iron Age gate plaza. The text recounts the exploits of a victorious Aramean king, probably Hazael, and mentions a king of Israel and the house of David. Dated c. 850–800 BCE. (Courtesy Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology, Jerusalem)

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Like the cultic precinct, the gate complexes also seem to show successive augmentation and aggrandizement. The tenth- and early ninth-century BCE fortification and gate plans have only been recovered in difficult-to-decipher fragments under the well-preserved remains of the assemblage from the ninth-eighth centuries BCE. By the time of bāmâ B, the high place and the gates on the southern periphery of the tell were connected by means of a monumental slabpaved avenue found in areas A, M, and T. The excavator has assigned this and its coeval four-chambered gate and buttressed solid fortification wall to Ahab. The last upper gate and some related architecture have been dated to the eighth century BCE and are associated with Jeroboam II. An impressive array of cultic paraphernalia was excavated in and around the gate complex, including an ashlar canopy platform, decorated stone column bases and capitals in the Assyrian style, groups of maṣṣēbôt in small “chapels,” altars, groups of complete pottery vessels presumed to have a cultic function, and more. Most significant of all is the recent (1993–1994) discovery of fragments of a stela (see figure 1), inscribed in Aramaic, that mentions a king of the House of David and a king of Israel (perhaps Jehoram). Though much controversy surrounds its interpretation, most scholars are now dating its placement to the second half of the ninth century BCE and its shattering to the first half of the eighth century BCE. The last phase was destroyed in the eighth century BCE, in a great conflagration that preserved these finds.

Iron Age III (Stratum I).

The period of Assyrian rule over ancient Israel is surprisingly well represented at Tel Dan. While most of the Galilee was devoid of settlement, and even sites of former prominence (Hazor, Tel Kinnerot) were either abandoned or occupied by fortresses alone, Dan experienced a population explosion of sorts. The entire tell was densely occupied by an orthogonal network of domestic structures and streets. Wide-ranging trade relations are evidenced by the presence of Assyrian, Phoenician, Ammonite, Judahite, and Corinthian pottery and other finds. Later Iron Age remains adjacent to the high place were apparently removed by Hellenistic-period modifications, but cultic activity probably continued there because new monumental buildings were erected nearby. Some of these show Assyrian-style pilaster construction. In contrast, the fortifications and gate complexes—perhaps destroyed by the Assyrians—were left in disrepair. The large number of complete vessels and other artifacts found in this stratum indicate sudden abandonment, though no real destruction layer was detected in most parts of the tell.


DAN. Figure 2. Bilingual inscription. Found in the cultic precinct; Greek above, Aramaic below. The text reads “To the God who is in Dan, Zoilos made a vow” and comprises forceful evidence for the identification of Tell el-Qadi with biblical Dan. Dated c. 200–150 BCE. (Courtesy Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology, Jerusalem)

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Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, and Medieval Periods.

Tel Dan appears to have lost much of its grandeur and, by inference, part of its original cultic importance, in the Persian through the medieval periods. Occupation was apparently confined to the environs of the high place, where cultic activity did continue. A large cache of Persian-period figurines was recovered in one of the rebuilt temenos chambers. From the Hellenistic period in particular, there is evidence of the construction of a new cultic precinct based on the same principles that had guided the Iron Age one: a belt of rooms surrounding an open space containing the central platform and altar court. These latter edifices were also supplemented. The most important find from this period came from the area of the cultic precinct: a bilingual (Greek-Aramaic) stone inscription mentioning “the god who is in Dan” (see figure 2). The upper gateway in area AB also continued to function as a passage, if not an actual gate.

The Roman period saw the surfaces in the cultic precinct raised and a new temenos wall constructed. A thick plaster floor was laid over the Iron Age platform. An ashlar-built fountain house was uncovered, fed by terra-cotta pipes drawing water from the nearby spring. All across the southern flank of the tell, above the remains of the Iron Age gates, similar pipes were found in articulation. These carried spring water to irrigate the outlying fields. By this time the cult place at Dan had been largely supplanted by the one at nearby Banias, though the two clearly coexisted over a long period of time. [See Banias.] By the end of the Roman period, Tel Dan was abandoned, except for an ephemeral early Ottoman occupation found in area M and its corresponding cemetery found along the margins of the tell, close to the surface.


  • Biran, Avraham, and Joseph Naveh. “An Aramaic Stele Fragment from Tel Dan.” Israel Exploration Journal 43 (1993): 81–98. Detailed account and analysis of the recently discovered stele mentioning the “House of David,” including a description of the archaeological context.
  • Biran, Avraham. Biblical Dan. Jerusalem, 1994. Well-illustrated, popular book summarizing twenty-seven seasons of excavation and the excavator-author's interpretations of the finds.
  • Biran, Avraham, and Joseph Naveh. “The Tel Dan Inscription: A New Fragment.” Israel Exploration Journal 45 (1995): 1–18.
  • Biran, Avraham, David Ilan, and A. Greenberg. Dan I: An Excavation History, the Pottery Neolithic, the Early Bronze Age and the Middle Bronze Age Tombs. Jerusalem, 1996.
  • Ilan, David. “Mortuary Practices at Tel Dan in the Middle Bronze Age: A Reflection of Canaanite Society and Ideology.” In The Archaeology of Death in the Ancient Near East, edited by S. Campbell and A. Green. Oxford, forthcoming. Summary of the MB burial data and an analysis of its cultural significance.
  • Stager, Lawrence E., and Samuel R. Wolff. “Production and Commerce in Temple Courtyards: An Olive Press in the Sacred Precinct at Tel Dan.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 243 (1981): 95–102. Alternative explanation (olive press) for the “libation installation” found in the sacred precinct and attributed to stratum IV.
  • Wapnish, Paula, and Brian Hesse. “Faunal Remains from Tel Dan: Perspectives on Animal Production at a Village, Urban, and Rural Center.” ArchaeoZoologia 4.2 (1991): 9–86. Revelatory examination of animal husbandry at Tel Dan, showing differing utilization in different parts of the town, exploitation of the site's hinterland, and changing patterns over time.
  • Yellin, Joseph, and Jan Gunneweg. “Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis and the Origin of Iron Age I Collared-Rim Jars and Pithoi from Tel Dan.” Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 49 (1989): 133–141. Scientific analysis of a particular pottery type, demonstrating both its local and distant origins.

David Ilan

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