Investigating the ancient peoples of Tel Dan
After a four-year hiatus, the Hebrew Union College is back excavating at Tel Dan, the site where the famous Tel Dan inscription—the first extra-Biblical evidence of King David—was discovered. This time, our consortium partners are Grand Rapids Theological Seminary & Cornerstone University (Grand Rapids, MI) and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY). We are excavating in two areas this season: Area B, which is just inside and east of the upper city gate of the Iron Age, and Area T1, which is at the southwestern end of the High Place,1 next to the upper spring, Ein Leshem.
In Area B, we have several goals. The first of these is to carefully excavate and document the dense stratigraphy of our Stratum IVA, a 10th–9th century B.C.E. horizon. This has implications for historical reconstruction and for the analysis of the Biblical account of Dan’s emergence as a national cult center (1 Kings 12). Who were the people who lived at Tel Dan? Who was or were their god or gods? Who were they aligned with culturally and politically? Aramaeans, Israel, Tyre, Sidon? So far, we have at least three phases from this horizon with lots of pottery, animal bones and metal objects.
Our second goal involves Carbon 14 dating. We are carefully collecting carbonized charcoal, grain, seeds and olive pits within individual successive stratigraphic contexts so as to enable the construction of a controlled chronometric sequence.
Our third aim is to reconstruct the Iron Age environment. We are carrying out wet-sieving to recover microfauna (fish, small rodents, etc.) and microflora. Nimrod Marom is supervising this research. And we are also retrieving samples via flotation—pouring the soil from floors and pits into containers of water and skimming off the botanical remains that float to the surface—to help us reconstruct the vegetation at and around Tel Dan in the Iron Age. One of us, Jonathan Greer, is overseeing the cataloging and study of the larger animal bones. Among other things, he is looking to compare the ritual assemblages, such as what we have in Area T with the other assemblages we seem to have in Area B.
When our collections are compared with similar collections from other sites in the Hula Valley—Tel Abel Beth Maacah and Tel Hazor—we will have a much better idea about the ecology of the Hula Valley in the Biblical period.
Our fourth goal is to make progress in the restoration and reconstruction of the Iron Age I neighborhood in Area B, so that visitors who pass through the Iron Age gate on their way to the High Place can see the houses the early Iron Age Danites lived and worked in, a small Aegean-style shrine, and the remains of recycling metallurgy that we found in the 1980s. We plan to work together with the Israel Nature Reserves and Parks Authority to produce one more evocative illustration of Biblical Dan, with a touch of revisionist scholarship, of course. In the meantime, visitors can marvel at the Middle Bronze Age triple-arched mudbrick gate (“Abraham’s gate”) and the massive Iron Age fortification and gate system with its mysterious standing stones.
In Area T1, partially excavated by Avraham Biran and his team during the 1980s, our renewed excavations there are aimed at exposing the meeting point between the two areas and to clarify some questions concerning the nature of settlement at Dan during the Neo-Assyrian and the Roman periods.
We look forward to more exciting discoveries during our final two weeks!
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1. See Avraham Biran, “Sacred Spaces,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 1998.
Dr. David Ilan, Director of Excavations at Tel Dan, is Director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at the Jerusalem campus of the Hebrew Union College. Dr. Ilan was the Zemsky Visiting Professor of Judaic Studies at John’s Hopkins University in 2006-2007. His publications deal with a wide range of subjects: the Middle Bronze Age of the southern Levant, the archaeology of death, northern Israel in the early Iron Age, community and archaeology and the problem of antiquities plunder and trade. He is currently preparing a series of final publications on the Tel Dan excavations with the staff of the Nelson Glueck School and a book on the religion and iconography of the Chalcolithic Period in the Levant.
Dr. Yifat Thareani, Codirector of Excavations at Tel Dan, is a Research Archaeologist at the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at the Jerusalem campus of the Hebrew Union College and current Codirector for the excavations at Achziv. Dr. Thareani has served on the Tel Dan excavation staff as Codirector for the 2006, 2008 and 2012 seasons and is responsible for the final publication of the Iron Age II remains at the site. Her recent research explores questions related to cultural responses to various control strategies (empires and local kingdoms) and their reflection in the archaeological record. The material culture from Tel Dan serves as a case study for the examination of the relationships between the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Aram-Damascus and the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the region.
Dr. Jonathan Greer, Associate Director of Excavations and Staff Zooarchaeologist at Tel Dan, is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and Director of the Hesse Memorial Archaeological Laboratory. His publications include technical analyses of animal bone remains as well as works dealing with the integration of Biblical texts and archaeological materials, especially those from Tel Dan. He is currently working on a project aimed at understanding the relationship between Biblical priestly prescriptions and archaeological remains from cultic sites in the Levant.
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