National Park and archaeological site Tel Dan
The history of this place, according to archaeological findings, started in the neolithic time around 9000 BC. The city became a big city with walls and city gates in the Bronze Age time when the Canaanites lived here. From that time you can see the excavations of a mud brick city gate. You can see that they excavated the stairs that led up to the gate. The gate had three arches made with mud bricks that were baked in the sun. The arch-shaped lintel is one of the earliest complete standing arches found in the world, and the archway is the earliest intact structure in the world.
The reason why it was found intact, in such a good shape, is because the Israelites used the old city gate as a base for their new gate and sealed it with new building materials that protected it for future from elements.
The archaeologists have uncovered the gate and side towers and they used the same technique of mud baking in the sun to prepare bricks to repair and reconstruct the gate where elements were missing.
Bronze Age gate Tel Dan: Abraham’s gate
It is often referred to as Abraham’s gate because in the book of Genesis we can read how he follows his cousin Lot who had been taken captive by some invading Kings from the north. He gathers about 300 strong men from his own tribe and tribes that he is friendly with and they go up north and they catch them at the city of Dan, in that time called Laish.
Laish was at the foot of the Lebanon mountains on its west and the Hermon mountains on north and east. It was a city that was quite isolated from the surrounding areas and this is emphasized in the Bible, although it seems to have had good relations with the Phoenicians from Sidon, the Sidonians.
Laish in the Egyptian execration texts
Laish is cursed in the Egyptian execration texts. The Egyptians used clay tablets and clay figurines with the names of their enemy cities and curses written on them in rituals in which they smashed these clay objects. Laish was conquered by Tuthmosis III.
The Bronze Age Canaanite wall and gate of Laish
The city had really high walls that were built on a huge earth glacis about 10 to 15 meters high. The glacis was made of layers of earth, stones, pebbles and other material, and was 60 to 70m thick! The center of the wall was composed of a thick (6m) wall of unhewn stones, with compressed earth on both sides.
It was an important city because it was on the crossroads of ancient trade routs
It is also a fertile area with plenty of water coming from Mount Hermon (Jabal es Sheikh)
It is mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible in the book of Judges where it is described as a prosperous city and the people were living quite isolated, in peace, with plenty of locally produced food and enough of everything for all the inhabitants.
The Israelites conquer Laish and establish Dan
One of the twelve Israelite tribes, the tribe of Dan, decided that they wanted to relocate and find a place to live. They sent five spies to check out the area and the city. They went up with six hundred men and attacked the people in the city and burnt it down.
They renamed it Dan after their ancestor Dan and they rebuilt the city.
The iron age Israelite wall of Tel Dan
From this city archaeologists found part of the iron age wall and the gate. And you can see the difference. The Bronze age gate further up the tell was made of mud bricks. This gate is made of basalt stones, locally found in this area, the result of volcanic activity millions of years ago. They used the existing walls around the city but they fortified them and added big basalt stone blocks.
This gate is not just an entrance in a wall. The iron age time gates were fortifications with four chambers and several towers and usually an L shape so that invaders could be caught by surprise by the defending army. They could also use the chambers for storage in peaceful times and for guardrooms for the soldiers and guards in war times.
The function of ancient city gates
These gates were interesting places. They were not only to protect the cities from people trying to get in, they were also meeting places, where news was shared by traders and messengers coming in from other parts of the land. The elders would sit here and give advice and judgment and here at Tel Dan they found a special platform outside the gate with four stones with holes in it that probably were used for sticks that held up a canopy to give shade to the ruler of Dan who would come to sit outside the gate at the square to give his judgment on cases that people brought to him.
The Dan Stele
In this area, the excavators found fragments of a basalt stone with Aramaic inscription, dated to the 9th century BC. It is a victory Stele probably by an Aramean King who conquered the city of Dan and wrote about it on this Stele. It is the first time that outside of the Bible the name of the House of David is used and therefore it is an important archaeological finding. It also mentions the land of Israel.
The Tel Dan Stele is one of four known inscriptions made during a roughly 400-year period (1200-800 BCE) containing the name “Israel”, the others being the Merneptah Stele, the Mesha Stele and the Kurkh Monolith.
Excavations at Tel Dan
When you walk around the tell, the man made mound of super imposed cities, you can see places that are excavated where you see the iron age Israelite houses that were built on top of the earlier bronze age houses. And many parts of the tell are not excavated and they are grown with trees and plants.
The high place or temple at Tel Dan
Another interesting archaeological finding here is the high place or Temple that was found, dating from iron age Israelite time. Many scholars think this is one of the two high places or temples that was set up by the Israelite king Jeroboam after the separation between the northern and southern kingdoms. Jeroboam wanted to stop his people from going to the Temple in Jerusalem and therefore he set up two places where people could bring offerings and sacrifices to God. He was influenced by the Canaanite people that worshiped more than one God and that had statues and other cultic elements and he made two golden calves one in Bethel, in the south of his Kingdom and one here in Dan.
You can see a higher platform made of stone and a lower area that was used for the sacrifices.
The city was captured and destroyed in 734 BC by the Assyrian armies that conquered the land.
Here is a 7 minutes video that summarizes the history and gives you an impression of what Tel Dan archaeological site looks like!