Tel Dan

Tel DanTel Dan is a rectangular mound in the northeastern reaches of the Hula valley, where the largest tributary of the Jordan River, the Dan, begins its course south. In the Hebrew bible, the site is also referred to as Laish (Joshua 19:47; Judges 18:29). This name may appear in the 18th century BCE Egyptian Execration Texts and in documents from Mari, on the Euphrates River in modern Syria. In the early 15th century, the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III named Laish as one of the cities he conquered.

 Aerial photo of Tel Dan showing excavation areas.After a brief exploratory excavation by Z. Yeivin in 1963, Avraham Biran, then director of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums, embarked in 1966 upon the first of a remarkable 33 seasons of excavation. In 1974, Biran moved to the Hebrew Union College to direct the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology, bringing the project with him. Over the years, seven areas were excavated on the site, five of them along its perimeter.

Tel DanAmong the significant finds were the massive Bronze Age ramparts, an intact mud-brick gate of the Middle Bronze Age with three complete arches, a variety of Middle Bronze Age tombs and burials, the Late Bronze Age “Mycenaean Tomb”, a rich stratum the early Iron Age, associated with the Israelite Settlement, including grain pits, hundreds of complete ceramic vessels, a recycling metallurgy industry and a dense array of domestic architecture. A sacred precinct (high place) and a series of gate complexes dating to the Iron Age II represent perhaps the most visible and evocative remains at the site. These features, now partially restored, testify to the importance of Dan as a religious center for the ancient Kingdom of Israel.

Tel DanFor many people, the most significant discovery of the Iron Age is an Aramaic inscription, in three pieces, that mentions the House of David and a king of Israel. This inscription was probably written in the second half of the 9th century, by the Aramaean king Hazael (II Kings 9). It is the only clear Iron Age (i.e nearly contemporary) reference to David outside the biblical text. Its shattering ought to be dated to the first half of the 8th century and most probably testifies to the city’s recapture by the Kingdom of Israel at this time (by Jeroboam II?). Sometime after 750 BCE the entire site was destroyed in a great conflagration, probably wrought by one of the invading Assyrian armies. Biran suggested this might be Tiglath Pilesar III but there is no reference to Dan’s destruction by him in either the Bible or his annals.

Tel DanCultic activity continued near the high place, over several hundred years, although very little in the way of a settlement has been found. Perhaps the most significant find is a bilingual Greek and Aramaic inscription. By the end of the 4th century CE, in the late Roman period, Tel Dan was abandoned. A homestead or a small hamlet may have existed on the site in the 15th-16th centuries CE, but the only substantial remains from this period are of a small cemetery on the southern margins of the tell.

The Archaeological Strata of Tel Dan




Significant Finds


Late Mameluke-early Ottoman

15th-16th century CE

Cemetery; jewelry; coins


Late Roman

2nd-4th century CE

Wine press, irrigation pipes, fountain house, Venus statue; coins



3rd-2nd century BCE

Bilingual inscription, figurine cache, Attic pottery; coins


Iron IIC

7th-6th century BCE

Rich destruction level, many objects; pilaster building in Area T


Iron IIB

Late 8th century BCE


Mazzeboth groups; altars; bronze and silver scepter; Assyrian destruction layer; Paleo-Hebrew, Phoenician and Aramaic inscriptions


Iron IIB

Early 8th century BCE

(Bamah C)

High Place built with margined ashlar in headers and stretchers and the “yellow floor”; Egyptian statuette; gate complex;


Iron IIB

Late 9th century BCE (Bamah B)

House of David inscription; lower 4-chambered gate; solid wall fortification


Iron IIA

9th century BCE

(Bamah A)

High Place; snake pithoi, oil press, faience figurines; bathtub; casemate wall (?) and upper gate


Iron IB

10th century BCE

Construction over destruction level of Stratum V; Phoenician Bichrome pottery; Phoenician pithos (no more manufacture of collared-rim or Galilean pithoi)


Iron IA

11th century BCE

Rich destruction level, many objects; metallurgy industry; Cypriot sanctuary; Phoenician pithoi; Sea People pottery; no pig bones; mazzeboth


Iron IA

12th century BCE

Tens of grain storage pits; collared rim pithoi and “Galilean” pithoi; metallurgy industry


Late Bronze IIB

13th century BCE

Sparse, poorly preserved village


Late Bronze IIA

14th century BCE

The “Mycenaean” tomb; scarab seals; imported pottery from Cyprus and Greece; the “Dancer from Dan”; Area B street and insulae; Egyptian statuette; metal deity figurines


Late Bronze I

15th century BCE

Pebble fill across most of site; Bichrome Ware pottery; stone scepter mold; ceramic mask


Middle Bronze III

16th-15th century BCE

Rampart supplemented; houses built on inner rampart; tombs under houses; scarab seals


Middle Bronze II

17th century BCE

The “Cenotaph” tomb


Middle Bronze II

18th century BCE

Mudbrick gate house with three intact arches; Earthen rampart; Monochrome Painted Crème Ware pottery


Middle Bronze I

20th-18th century BCE

Simple dwellings; wheel-made pottery including Levantine Painted Ware; infant and adult burials and tombs under the houses; the first bronze objects


Intermediate Bronze

23rd-20th century BCE

Sparse settlement remains; pottery


Early Bronze III

27th-23rd century BCE

Massive additions to rampart in stone and earth; Khirbet Kerah pottery


Early Bronze II

30th-27th century BCE

Earliest stone ramparts; dwellings; Metallic Ware pottery; cylinder seal impressions


Pottery Neolithic

Circa 5000 BCE

Basalt carved vessels; flint tools; primitive pottery