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.
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.
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.
Partly excavated mud brick wall and gateway at Dan; Middle Bronze era
Excavated gateway at Dan
The reconstructed Iron Age city walls at Dan
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).
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
The stone platform at Dan that formed the base of the city temple and treasury
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).
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.
A seat of
judgement once stood here at the gates of Dan;
The king of
Dan had a more modest seat of judgment than Tutankhamen had,
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.
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...
The gate area at Dan: it was here that the Stele of Dan was found
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).
For images of Jeroboam's bull idols at Dan, see