Ancient city of Dan, Bible archaeology

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Warrior kings:
Omri and Ahab

Golden flower

The Golden Calf 

Idols in ancient times: snake bracelet

Idolatry in ancient Israel


Ancient sacrifice

Woman at the window, ivory plaque

Gods, goddesses

Ancient altar or baamah

High places

Magic sign


Incense burner

Idols in Canaan

















Dan: what happened there

  • Dan was the northern centre for worship of the fertility gods

  • Dan marked the northern boundary of Israel 

  • Samson, the Bible's strongman, was a Danite

An Ancient City

Tel Dan was the central city of the northern tribe of Dan, one of the twelve tribes of Israel. (Genesis 14:14; Joshua 19:47; Judges 18:29). Being in a crucial position, it was often attacked and sometimes sacked. At right is a  clay pot excavated at Dan.  The small fragments suggest that this item was deliberately smashed, probably in warfare, rather than being accidentally broken.

Dan: Ancient pottery from the city of Dan But it had been a city, Laish, long before the Hebrews arrived. People came and went. The site was occupied in Neolithic times for several centuries before being abandoned for about 1000 years. Its name appears in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts from circa 2,000BC. 

Massive Walls

The ancient city had massive walls and ramparts - see the photograph below, showing the intact mud-brick gate with three complete arches dating to approximately 1750 BC.



Dan: Thick city wall at Dan, constructed of mud bricks and dating from the Middle Bronze Era

Partly excavated mud brick wall and gateway at Dan; Middle Bronze era

Dan: City wall at Dan, with small entrance door

Excavated gateway at Dan

Dan: The reconstructed stone wall at Dan

The reconstructed Iron Age city walls at Dan


Shrines to Fertility Gods

Excavations have also uncovered a sacred precinct (the 'high place' referred to in the Bible) and two gate complexes from the Iron Age (1000-586 BC). 

Dan: The central sacred area in the city of Dan

The area at Dan where animal sacrifices were made to the Golden Calf, set up by Jeroboam; note the metal reconstruction of the site of the 'horned altar' at the center of the sacred area. Note also the stairs at far right: these led up to a temple or sacred area: the house of the god and the temple treasury

Dan: Stone platform which may have been the base for the sacred area or temple in the ancient city of Dan

The stone platform at Dan that formed the base of the city temple and treasury


The Golden Calf

After the death of King Solomon, Israel was divided into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. The northern kingdom was more inclined towards the fertility religions, and the new king Jeroboam erected a Golden Calf in Dan for his people to worship. Photographs above show the Temple area built at this time.

This of course horrified the Yahwist priests in Jerusalem - and it is their version of history we hear in the Bible.

The next Israelite kings, Omri and his son Ahab, rebuilt and strengthened the city of Dan. However, when the Assyrians invaded in 732BC, Dan disappeared from sight. Its inhabitants were probably banished together with the other northern Israelites (II Kings 15:29).

The King/Judge at Dan

In every ancient city there was a leader/king/governor. He not only administered the lands around his city, but acted as a judge as well. There is a glimple of this in the story of King Solomon, who was expected to give judgements on tricky legal matters as well as governing his kingdom.

The king/judge sat in judgement at the city gates, where his rulings were given in full public view. At Dan, pieces of carved stone were excavated: they formed the bases of a canopy that covered the seat he sat on when he gave judgement.


Dan: Partial reconstruction of the throne of judgement at Dan, with carved stone bases for the superstructure

A seat of judgement once stood here at the gates of Dan; 
note the carved stone supports for a canopy

Pharaoh Tutankhamun on his throne: Drawing of the seat of judgement or throne of Tutankhamun

The king of Dan had a more modest seat of judgment than Tutankhamen had, 
but it would have been similiar in design


The Stele of Dan

Three fragments of stone were recently excavated at Dan, in the area of the city gates. They have an  Aramaic inscription mentioning the House of David and a king of Israel, probably written in the second half of the 9th century BC.

Dan: Photograph of the Stele of Dan

One of the Aramean kings carved the stone when he captured Dan. It was propaganda for a sweet moment of victory. This was how he let his subjects know how lucky they were to have him as king...

Dan: The stone gate area at the entrance of the city of Dan

The gate area at Dan: it was here that the Stele of Dan was found

What happened to the city of Dan?

Dan reappeared briefly, but ceased to be an important cultic center by the end of the Iron Age. Settlement at Tel Dan ended with the late Roman period (c. 400 CE).


Ancient image of Baal, god of rain and riversFor images of Jeroboam's bull idols at Dan, see 

The Golden Calf  or  

Idols   or 

Beliefs of ordinary Israelites


See other fascinating links between 
Archaeology and the Bible




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