Tel Dan (Tell el-Qadi in Arabic) is located at the northeast end of the Hula Valley, at the foot of Mount Hermon and at the headwaters of the Jordan River’s most important source, the Dan River. A large spring flows at the foot of the mound, and a smaller spring wells up on top of the mound. The site has great agricultural potential due to the ease of irrigation, fertile soils, and benign climate, with 27 in (700 mm) of rainfall (Judg 18:9–10). Staples such as wheat, barley, and lentils were grown; timber was abundant; and commodity crops such as grapes and olives are in evidence in the archaeobotanical remains. Flax and papyrus are other probable agrarian products. The site was also surrounded by rich pastureland and near the famous pastures of the Golan Heights (Jer 50:19).

Tel Dan is located on the most convenient route between the Phoenician coast and the Syrian interior, which resulted in commercial and political ties with both regions, as well as with the settlements of the Rift Valley: the Bekáa Valley in Lebanon and the Jordan Valley in Israel.

Identification and Historical References.

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 almost unanimously since. Dan is referred to in the Bible frequently, most often in passages reflecting the Iron-Age world (e.g., Jos 19:47; Judg 18; 1 Kgs 12:29–31, 15:20). 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 and, perhaps, in the Mari correspondences in connection with tin shipments to Hazor. Later, in the fifteenth century B.C.E., Laish is again mentioned in the list of cities conquered by the Egyptian king Thutmose III. The latest reference from antiquity is that in the Onomasticon of Eusebius (entry 369), who located the place 4 mi (6.4 km) from Paneas (Bāniās).


Trial excavations were carried out in 1963 by Zeev Yeivin, and in 1966 salvage excavations were begun by the Israel Department of Antiquities under the direction of Avraham Biran. In 1974 the project moved to the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology of the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, still under Biran’s directorship. Biran discontinued excavations following the 1999 season. David Ilan launched a new expedition in 2005. As of 2012, eight excavation areas had been opened: A, B, H, K, L, M, T, and Y. All of the areas except H, L, and M straddle the perimeter of the tell, exposing the Bronze-Age fortifications. Small-scale salvage excavations were carried out in 2004 by M. Hartal of the Israel Antiquities Authority just north of the tell, across the channel of the Dan Stream.

The fortifications enclose springs on the west side of the tell, which still flow out through a massive, permeable boulder berm that underlies the remains of earthen ramparts. This was a great advantage to the ancient inhabitants, who would have been assured a constant and effusive supply of fresh water within the fortified enclosure. The high water table and dense vegetation make excavation of this area a difficult proposition.

Archaeological Summary.

The site was occupied with few lacunae for approximately 5,500 years, from the Pottery Neolithic period until the late Roman period. The occupational lacunae occur in the Chalcolithic period, Early Bronze Age I, and early Roman period. The site was only occasionally settled after the late Roman period.

Neolithic period (stratum XVI).

The earliest occupation at Tel Dan dates to the Pottery Neolithic period, perhaps early in the Wadi Rabah phase (ca. 5000 B.C.E.). Remains were encountered in Area B, where a deep probe at the base of the Middle Bronze–Age rampart core reached bedrock. Five stratigraphic phases were distinguished here in 6.5 ft (2 m) of accumulation. A subsurface infant burial in a jar was uncovered. Significant quantities of Pottery Neolithic 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 almost devoid of Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age–I occupation (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 1,500 years of abandonment. Early Bronze–Age remains have been found in all of the deep exposures (Areas A, B, K, M, T, Y), even those outside the limits of later fortifications, attesting that the Early Bronze–Age settlement was the most extensive of all. Massive stone and brick fortifications, the most impressive in the southern Levant for this period, are in evidence on the north and east sides of the tell; and there is a possible gate complex in Area K. Key finds include animal figurines, models of couches, cylinder-seal impressions (one of the largest groups in the Levant), a decorated bone handle, Khirbet Kerak ware, and metal implements.

Middle Bronze Age (strata XII–IX).

Tel Dan was occupied during the Intermediate Bronze Age (also called Early Bronze Age IV), but only pottery sherds have been found from this settlement. 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 Middle Bronze Age is represented by four strata (IX–XII), totaling 13 to 16 ft (4–5 m) thick in some places, excluding the interior embankment.

The most prominent features of the Middle Bronze–Age occupation are its rampart fortifications and its uniquely intact mud-brick gate. The initial phases of settlement in stratum XII utilized the remains of existing Early Bronze–Age fortifications. Late in this stratum, or perhaps in stratum XI, these fortifications were supplemented by additional embankments and superstructures on the north, east, and perhaps west. On the southern flank, a new rampart was constructed by erecting, in stages, a vertical stone core with embankments sloping down to either side. This core was 21 ft (6.5 m) thick and preserved to a height of 34.5 ft (10.5 m). The width of the rampart at its base was approximately 164 ft (50 m). The upper part of the rampart has eroded, but evidence from the north and eastern flanks suggests that it was crowned with a freestanding wall.

A triple-arched mud-brick gate flanked by two towers was built at about the same time (late stratum XII), probably on the site of an earlier Early Bronze–Age gate. This is one of the world’s earliest preserved arched structures. It was preserved almost to its original height and plastered against the elements. Apparently, however, it was unstable and prone to collapse; and the excavators discerned evidence of unsuccessful attempts at shoring it up. In the end, the gate was blocked up and covered by the earthen embankment, resulting in its almost total preservation. This ancient gate has been restored. Later in the Middle Bronze Age a new gate, of stone this time, was apparently built at the midpoint and apex of the tell’s southern flank, underneath the upper Iron-Age gate.

The remains inside and under the Middle Bronze–Age ramparts seem to be 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 Middle Bronze Age–I and –II tombs were 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 2 years, and jar burials contained mainly 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, more than anything else. The artifacts from both types of tombs (which contained 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. It has also been proposed that the burial practices of this period represent belief in an afterlife that required provisioning. The Middle Bronze–Age settlement was destroyed by a great conflagration, probably in the first half of the fifteenth century B.C.E.

Late Bronze Age (strata VIII–VII).

Extensive Late Bronze–Age remains were found inside the perimeter of the Middle Bronze–Age fortifications in all areas where sufficient depth was attained. Stratum VIII represents the Late Bronze Age I (fifteenth century B.C.E.), stratum VIIB the Late Bronze Age IIA (fourteenth century B.C.E.), and stratum VIIA the Late Bronze Age IIB (thirteenth–first half of twelfth centuries B.C.E.). The occupational remains of stratum VIII were built over the destruction layer of the previous Middle Bronze–Age stratum and display a similar material culture including the continuation of burial techniques. At this time the first evidence for metallurgy is found at Tel Dan in the form of melting furnaces, crucibles, and slag (especially in Area B). In Area K, a portion of a well-preserved stone-built structure that contained a terra-cotta mask, a javelin head, and a mold for casting a metal scepter was excavated.

Stratum VII was often truncated by pitting and by the 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 southern 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, slag, blowpipe nozzles, and the like. However, the most impressive assemblage of this period (fourteenth–thirteenth centuries B.C.E.) was found in a large, corbeled, stone-built tomb (tomb 387) in the Middle Bronze–Age style: the so-called Mycenaean tomb. Approximately 40 individuals—men, women, and children—were interred over time, with older burials pushed aside to make room for later burials and offerings. Almost 500 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. The later part of this stratum also shows evidence, mainly ceramic, for Egyptians at Tel Dan.

Iron Age I (strata VI–V).

The material culture of this period shows a clear continuity from the Late Bronze Age. Most pottery forms and metal utensils are clearly descended from Late Bronze–Age types. Metallurgy was even more important and extensively practiced, the emphasis being on intensive recycling. Metallurgy was associated with ritual, in the form of a small sanctuary containing ceremonial objects such as a miniature silo shrine, chalices, and evocative natural stones. But much had changed from the Late Bronze Age: myriad deep, often stone-lined pits are featured in almost all of the excavated areas. Sometimes these contained a variety of pottery vessels—from large pithoi (large storage jars) to small pyxides (small, round, squat vessels)—and animal bones, organic residues, and ash. Particularly suggestive are the many pithoi of three types: collared-rim, Galilean, and Phoenician. Collared-rim pithoi are most at home farther south, in the highlands of Judah, Samaria, and northern Jordan. Their significant presence at Dan was attributed by Biran to the migration of the tribe of Dan described in Judges 18. The present author believes that they were initially an Egyptian innovation.


Tel Dan Stele. Kim Walton, courtesy of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

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Stratum VI (twelfth century B.C.E.) is preserved mainly as an agglomeration of pits, primarily intended for the storage of grain. This occupation seems to have been of short duration and more ephemeral, but the lack of preservation is chiefly the result of heavy building and leveling in stratum V (late twelfth–mid-eleventh centuries B.C.E.), 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. 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.

The richly preserved material culture suggests multicultural origins: Egyptians (large jars and cooking vessels), Cypriots or Aegean folk (figurines, bird images, kernos rings [hollow pottery rings for ritual drinking or smoking, with appended small vessels and figures], various ceramic vessels, iron knives, and other metal objects), and local “Canaanites” (most ceramic, bone tool, and metal types). The Cypriot and Aegean facets may be related to the Danuna (or Denyen) people mentioned in several ancient sources: those attacking Ugarit in El Amarna letter 151 (lines 50–55), one of the antagonists in the relief at Ramses III’s mortuary temple in Thebes that describes his battles against the Land and Sea Peoples, and as a victim of that king’s victories in Papyrus Harris. It has further been proposed that the Danites/Danuna are to be identified with the Danai of Greek mythology, to whom Perseus and Mopsus belonged.

Archaeological Feature Biblical References
Strata VI–V settlement Judg 18
Strata VI–IVB Cypriot and Aegean features Judg 5:17
Strata VI–IVB metallurgy installations Exod 31:6–11, 35:24, 38:23; Chr 2:13–14
Carpentry tools, other crafts Exod 31:6–11, 35:24, 38:23
Strata IVA–II sanctuary 1 Kgs 12:28–31, 2 Kgs 10:29
Stratum IVA destruction 1 Kgs 15:20
Stratum II fragmented “House of David” stele (probably originates in stratum IVA) 2 Kgs 8:29
Strata III–0 Proto-Aeolic capitals and floral columns 1 Kgs 6 (Solomon’s temple description)
Strata III–I stelae (masseboth) Gen 28:18–22
Destruction of stratum III by earthquake Amos 1:1
Destruction of stratum II (Assyrians?) 2 Kgs 15:29?
Destruction of stratum I (Babylonians?) 2 Kgs 4:15, Jer 8:16

Iron Age IIA–B (strata IVA–II).

Dan’s importance as a religious center for the Israelite kingdom was the key to its continued prosperity and growth in Iron II. The high place in Area T and the gate complexes in Areas A and AB were constructed over approximately two centuries (ca. 930–730 B.C.E.), incrementally with periodic additions. The standard and scale of building suggest a massive utilization of resources and skilled labor. Most scholarship has attributed this building activity to the kings of Israel. The excavator (Biran) discerned three major building phases in the Iron-II sanctuary and attributed them to prominent Israelite kings with territorial accomplishments and records of building activity, who had long reigns:

  • Bamah A. Dating to the late tenth century B.C.E. (stratum IVA, Jeroboam I?), the bamah is represented by a row of massive, rectangular, dressed stones laid out under the southern foundations of Bamah B. An ashlar-constructed altar platform, an olive press, and several other richly endowed rooms were associated with this massive substructure.
  • Bamah B. The ninth-century B.C.E. (stratum III, Ahab?) bamah gave the structure its present form. It is made up 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 (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 stonemasons’ residue created a thick, yellow floor of powdered travertine abutting this phase’s buildings. In this phase and in the next phase, a series of pits containing large quantities of animal bones were recorded. Research has shown that the animal remains include no pig bones whatsoever. A number of pits have been analyzed, and they contain what are clearly the remains of sacred feasts—animal bones and ceramic vessels for cooking, serving, and eating. The animals were slaughtered, cooked, and consumed in the ritual area. Moreover, the pits near the large altar contained more left-side limbs, while those in the western chambers contained more right-side limbs. The latter were probably designated for the priests (cf. Exod 29:27–28, Lev 7:32–33).
  • Bamah C. The eighth-century B.C.E. (stratum II, Jeroboam II) bamah represents a phase of alterations and supplements. It was also the phase that revealed a series of cultic objects—altars (cf. Exod 27:1–8, 30:1–5), basins (cf. Lev 16:4; 2 Chr 4:6; Exod 29:4, 30:17–21), 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.

It is quite clear, however, from the biblical text (1 Kgs 15:20, 2 Kgs 13:3–5) and from the “House of David” stele that the Aramean kingdom ruled the region of Tel Dan for at least several decades in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E. It is hard to imagine that the Arameans did not contribute monumental construction during this time as well.

Like the cultic precinct, the gate complexes also seem to show successive augmentation and aggrandizement. The tenth- and early ninth-century B.C.E. fortifications and gates have been recovered only in fragments under the well-preserved remains of the ninth to eighth centuries B.C.E. By the time of Bamah B, the high place and the gates on the southern periphery of the tell were connected by means of a monumental slab-paved avenue found in Areas A, M, and T. The excavator has assigned this pavement, the lower four-chambered gate, and the buttressed, solid fortification wall to Ahab. The last phase of the upper gate and some related architecture have been dated to the eighth century B.C.E. and are associated with Jeroboam II. An impressive array of cultic paraphernalia was excavated in and around the gate complexes, including an ashlar canopied platform, decorated stone column bases and capitals in the Assyrian style, groups of masseboth (standing stones) in small “chapels,” altars, groups of complete pottery vessels presumed to have a cultic function, and more.


Iron-Age gate at Tel Dan. Todd Bolen/Bible

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Most significant of all is the discovery (1993–1994) of a stele, inscribed in Aramaic, which mentions a king of the House of David (most scholars think this is Ahaz) and a king of Israel (most likely Jehoram). Though much controversy surrounds its interpretation, most scholars date its placement to the second half of the ninth century B.C.E. and its shattering to the first half of the eighth century B.C.E., perhaps with northern Israel’s “liberation” from the Arameans by Jeroboam II.

The last gate and fortification phase of the Iron Age was destroyed in the second half of the eighth century B.C.E., in a conflagration that preserved these finds. Biran believed that this destruction was wrought during the campaign of the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III (2 Kgs 15:29), but Dan is mentioned neither in that king’s annals nor in the biblical account. Given the biblical author’s anti-Israel cult inclinations, one would expect the illegitimate sanctuary’s destruction to have been given a prominent place. This author can only conclude that Dan was not destroyed by the Assyrians.

It has been the practice of various authors to discuss Tel Dan’s ritual locations and features as discrete assemblages—sanctuary podium, gate complexes, altars, masseboth, ceramic stands, and so on. But it is perhaps more correct to view the entire site as holy, where the gates and the area immediately outside the lower gate reflect a liminal zone marking the transition from profane to holy. The site comprises the culminating stages of a pilgrimage experience, where pilgrims were accompanied by the immanence of the deity (El?, Yahweh?, Haddad?). The three groups of five masseboth, located at different places along the city wall and at the entrance to the upper gate, may represent the deity’s feet, for example, as he accompanies pilgrims in their progress toward his dwelling place in the temenos precinct of Area T.

Finally, the Tel Dan ritual complex is the only supralocal (national?) temple that remains in ancient Israel. It is the only place where one can view the layout of large-scale ritual narrative for the Iron-Age time frame. If one wishes to understand the cult of First Temple–period Jerusalem, one must visit the excavated sanctuary of Tel Dan.

Iron Age IIC (stratum I).

The period of Assyrian rule over ancient Israel is surprisingly well represented at Tel Dan. While most of the Galilee saw a severe contraction of settlement and even sites of former prominence (Hazor, Tel Kinnerot) were either abandoned or seriously reduced, Dan experienced a population explosion of sorts. Much of the tell was occupied by a network of domestic structures and streets (best seen in the center, in Area M). 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 temple podium were apparently removed by Hellenistic-period modifications, and it is not clear whether ritual activity continued. A new monumental building with Assyrian-style pilasters was constructed nearby. In contrast, the fortifications and gate complexes, partly destroyed by either the Assyrians or an earthquake, 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.

Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, and medieval periods.

Tel Dan appears to have lost much of its grandeur and cultic importance in the Persian through the medieval periods. Habitation was apparently confined to the environs of the temenos in Area T, where cultic activity continued, albeit on a smaller scale. A large cache of Persian-period figurines was recovered in one of the rebuilt temenos chambers. From the Hellenistic period, we have evidence for 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.” 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 from this period was uncovered, fed by terra-cotta pipes that drew water from the nearby spring. All across the southern flank of the tell, above the remains of the Iron-Age gate, similar pipes were found in articulation. These carried spring water to irrigate the outlying fields. By this time Tel Dan may have been no more than an agrarian estate, under the aegis of Paneas/Caesarea Philippi. The cult place had been largely supplanted by the one at nearby Paneas, though the two clearly coexisted over a long period of time. By the end of the Roman period, Tel Dan was abandoned. The remains of an ephemeral village occupation from the early Ottoman period were detected in Area M, and its corresponding cemetery was found close to the surface, along the margins of the tell.

The Biblical Text and Archaeological Evidence.

Dan is first mentioned in Genesis 14:14 as the place to which Abram pursues the kidnappers of his nephew Lot. This is a good example of an internal anachronism since only later in the narrative sequence, in Judges 18:29, is the town’s name changed from Laish to Dan. Tour guides sometimes tell their groups that the Middle Bronze–Age mud-brick gate was seen, or even entered, by Abraham; but this is mere fancy.

Judges 18 is the first detailed account in which Laish/Dan is the scene of action. This is clearly a polemic against the northern Israelite cult, viewed from the negative perspective of the Deuteronomistic historian residing in Jerusalem. As such, one must be very careful in gauging its historicity. At the same time, however, there are hints that the writer was aware of certain historical peculiarities, such as the tribe’s maritime orientation (Judg 5:17). Samson, the most famous Danite, is a patently Greek character. All this may be reflected in the Aegean features in the archaeological assemblages of strata VI–IVB. In any case, it is hard to fathom how such a bizarre, yet geographically specific, story would have originated, without there being at least a grain of historical truth in the background.

Stratum Period Dates Significant Finds
0 (1) Late Mameluke–early Ottoman 15th–16th centuries C.E. Cemetery, jewelry, coins
0 (2) Late Roman 2d–4th centuries C.E. Winepress, irrigation pipes, fountain house, Venus statue, coins
0 (3) Hellenistic 3d–2d centuries B.C.E. Bilingual inscription, figurine cache, Attic pottery, coins
I Iron IIC 7th–6th centuries B.C.E. Rich destruction level, many objects, pilaster building in Area T
II Iron IIB Late 8th century B.C.E. Masseboth groups; altars; bronze and silver scepter; Assyrian destruction layer; Paleo-Hebrew, Phoenician, and Aramaic inscriptions
IIIA Iron IIB Early 8th century B.C.E. (Bamah C) High place built with margined ashlar in headers and stretchers and “yellow floor,” Egyptian statuette, gate complex
IIIB Iron IIB Late 9th century B.C.E. (Bamah B) House of David inscription, lower four-chambered gate, solid wall fortification
IVA Iron IIA 9th century B.C.E. (Bamah A) High place, snake pithoi, oil press, faience figurines, bathtub, possible casemate wall, and upper gate
IVB Iron IB 10th century B.C.E. Construction over destruction level of stratum V, Phoenician bichrome pottery, Phoenician pithos (no more manufacture of collared-rim or Galilean pithoi)
V Iron IA 11th century B.C.E. Rich destruction level, many objects; metallurgy industry; Cypriot sanctuary; Phoenician pithoi; Sea People pottery; no pig bones; masseboth
VI Iron IA 12th century B.C.E. Tens of grain storage pits, collared-rim and “Galilean” pithoi, metallurgy industry
VIIB Late Bronze IIB 13th century B.C.E. Sparse, poorly preserved settlement
VIIA Late Bronze IIA 14th century B.C.E. “Mycenaean” tomb, scarab seals, imported pottery from Cyprus and Greece, the “Dancer from Dan,” Area B street and insulae, Egyptian statuette, metal deity figurines
VIII Late Bronze I 15th century B.C.E. Pebble fill across most of site, bichrome ware pottery, stone scepter mold, ceramic mask
IX Middle Bronze III 16th–15th centuries B.C.E. Rampart supplemented, houses built on inner rampart, tombs under houses, scarab seals
X Middle Bronze II 17th century B.C.E. “Cenotaph” tomb
XI Middle Bronze II 18th century B.C.E. Mud-brick gate house with three intact arches, earthen rampart, monochrome painted crème ware pottery
XII Middle Bronze I 20th–18th centuries B.C.E. Simple dwellings, wheel-made pottery including Levantine painted ware, infant and adult burials and tombs under houses, first bronze objects
XIII Intermediate Bronze 23d–20th centuries B.C.E. Sparse settlement remains, pottery
XIV Early Bronze III 27th–23rd centuries B.C.E. Massive additions to rampart in stone and earth, Khirbet Kerak pottery
XV Early Bronze II 30th–27th centuries B.C.E. Earliest stone ramparts, dwellings, metallic ware pottery, cylinder seal impressions
XVI Pottery Neolithic ca. 5000 B.C.E. Basalt carved vessels, flint tools, primitive pottery

The laconic description of Jeroboam’s construction of sanctuaries to Yahweh at Dan and Beth El (1 Kgs 12:29–30) is, again, a polemic against the cult of Israel, which was perceived as the sinful source of Israel’s tribulations. Here, too, the biblical writer’s polemic is directed against an institution that existed in reality; the archaeological details often correspond with biblical descriptions. The layout of the sanctuary; the existence of various kinds of altars (for meat, grain, first fruits, and incense offerings), shovels, a bronze marzeah (ritual banquet) bowl, the basins, the remains of meat sacrifices, dice (urim and thumim?); and many other artifacts all resonate in passages that refer to rituals and ritual paraphernalia in, for example, 1 Kings (6–7), Exodus (20:25, 30:7–8), Amos (3:14, 6:4–7), Isaiah (1:10–17), Jeremiah (17:26), Ezekiel (43), Deuteronomy (33:8), Leviticus (1–7), and Numbers (28).

The Iron-Age destructions at Tel Dan are not always easy to pin down in terms of biblical history. For example, a literal reading of Judges 18 would suggest that the Late Bronze–Age “Canaanite” level (stratum VII) was destroyed by the Danites, followed by an occupation with “Israelite”-type material culture. Instead, it is the so-called Israelite layer (stratum V), and not stratum VII, that was destroyed by a massive conflagration. This illustrates the dangers of a strictly literal reading. Stratum IVB seems to have been destroyed by an earthquake, but the evidence is scant. Stratum IVA shows signs of multiple destructions, at least in Area T; these may be related to the wars between Israel and Aram. Stratum III shows evidence of conflagration, though not on all parts of the site; this may be the reconquest of Jeroboam II. And stratum II was clearly destroyed in an earthquake, perhaps that mentioned in Amos I. Stratum I shows sudden abandonment, with many objects left in place; perhaps this is related to the Babylonian incursions.

[See also HAZOR.)]


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  • Ilan, David. “The Socioeconomic Implications of Grain Storage in Early Iron Age Canaan: The Case of Tel Dan.” In The Children of Israel: Archaeological Studies in Honor of Israel Finkelstein, edited by A. Fantalkin and A. Yasur-Landau, pp. 87–104. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2008.
  • Ornan, Tallay. “The Lady and the Bull: Remarks on the Bronze Plaque from Tel Dan.” In Essays on Ancient Israel in Its Near Eastern Context: A Tribute to Nadav Naאaman, edited by Yairah Amit, Ehud Ben Zvi, Israel Finkelstein, et al., pp. 297–312. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2006.
  • Schniedewind, William M. “Tel Dan Stela: New Light on Aramaic and Jehu’s Revolt.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 302 (1996): 75–90.
  • 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 243 (1981): 95–102.
  • Wapnish, Paula, and Brian Hesse. “Faunal Remains from Tel Dan: Perspectives on Animal Production at a Village, Urban, and Ritual Center.” ArchaeoZoologia 4, no. 2 (1991): 9–86.

David Ilan