Israel Sites – Tel Dan
In 1966, a team led by Prof. Avraham Biran began to excavate Tel Dan (A tel is an ancient mound composed of the remains of successive settlements.) The impressive findings included sections of imposing walls and gates, as well as a ritual site which dates to the time of dramatic events recounted in the Bible. The earliest findings from a settlement on the tel belong to the Ceramical Neolithic Age (beginning of the fifth century B.C.E.). A city was first built there during the early Canaanite period. It was populated between 2700 and 2400 B.C.E. In the eighteenth century B.C.E., during the middle Canaanite period, a tremendous earth dike surrounded the city, protecting it for centuries. This is the city of Laish, which members of the tribe Dan captured for their homeland. Important remains were discovered in a Mycenaean grave from the late Canaanite period. The tribe of Dan found it difficult to deal with the pressures brought by the Philistines, and therefore decided to go North: “they proceeded to Laish, a people tranquil and unsuspecting, and they put them to the sword and burned down the town. There was none to come to the rescue, for it was distant from Sidon… They rebuilt the town and settled there, and they named the town Dan, after their ancestor Dan who was Israel’s son. Originally, however, the name of the town was Laish” (Judges 18:27-29).
One of the fascinating finds from Tel Dan is a piece of a fossilized tablet from the second half of the ninth century B.C.E. Carved onto it is an inscription of Hazael, King of Damascus, boasting of his victory over the King of Israel of the House of David. This is the first time that the name “House of David” was discovered outside of the Bible. Unfortunately, archaeologists have yet to find the inscription in its entirety. Dan was settled continuously until the Roman period, when the tel was abandoned and the center of settlement moved to Banias.
Tel Dan Nature Reserve
Entering the Tel Dan Reserve is like stepping into a wonderland: scores of bubbling brooks feed into a running river; tall treetops reach for the sky, completely blocking it from view; the ground is always shaded and refreshingly cool, even at noon on a hot summer day. It is no wonder that some 7,000 years ago people chose the small hill above the spring as the spot to make their homes. Of the three sources of the Jordan River, the Dan River is the largest and most important. Its springs provide up to 238 million cubic meters of water annually, equivalent to the water flowing from the Hermon (Banias) and Snir rivers combined. Some 7.5 cubic meters of water flow through Ein Dan every second, almost 365 days a year. The natural drainage basin of the Dan River is very small, which means that the springs are the source of all of the water which flows there. This is the reason for the water’s low stable temperature (about 14.5 centigrade) and high quality (only 10 milligrams of chlorine per liter) The springs are fed by the snow and rain which fall on Mount Hermon. The water seeps into the mountain, diving into hundreds of springs by the time it reaches the foot. Together, these springs form the largest karstic spring in the Middle East. Until the 1967 Six Day War, the Dan River was the only source of the Jordan in Israeli hands. The shortage of water in Israel and the use of the Dan to meet the needs of the population almost meant the end of the reserve. The need to use the Dan River water was not a matter of dispute; the question was only from where the water should be taken. In 1966, Israel’s water planners decided that it would be best to siphon the water from the source and use the force of gravity to carry it to the Hulah Valley. Nature lovers in Israel believed that the reserve should not be harmed and that the water should be taken from a lower level. This debate went on for three years, but in 1969 the conservation lobby won out and the Tel Dan Reserve became a reality.
The tiny Tel Dan Reserve covers only about 120 acres. Nonetheless, thanks to its location and unique environmental conditions, the Reserve contains plants and animals from a variety of worlds. The Cairo spiny mouse, a desert rodent, “climbed” along the Syrian-African Rift. The amphibious fire salamander is commonly found in Europe. Adult specimens have elongated black bodies with yellow or orange splotches. During the rainy season, the salamanders gather in the pools of water to spawn their offspring, and the rivulets of the reserve are teeming with them. Broad toothed mouse is a nocturnal Mediterranean rodent which feeds primarily on acorns. Tristram jird, a representative of the central Asian steppe, is a rodent which lives in burrows and eats seeds and foliage. The flora in the reserve are also endemic to a wide variety of places. Syrian ash, which grows between the rivulets, and Jerusalem thorn, a large, thorny, and thicket-like plant, are Euro-Siberian in origin. The very large Atlantic pistachio and the lotus jujube, with its crooked branches, are typical of steppe regions. Laurel and alaternus, generally found in the damp parts of the reserve, are Mediterranean trees, and jujube, whose fruit resembles tiny apples, is typically seen in East Africa. The water in the rivulets contains a world in itself. The islands in the river are home to marsh fern, a northern fern which disappeared from the Hulah Valley and can only be found in Israel along the Dan River. This is the southernmost distribution of the marsh fern in the world. Another rare plant is the St. John’s wort, which can be up to four meters tall. Typical riverbank vegetation can be seen close to the water, such as holy bramble, loosestrife, common hemp agrimony, galingale, bedstraw, cynanchum, and willow herb.
Many invertebrates live in the water flowing through the Tel Dan Reserve: melanopsis, a black-shelled snail, whose diet is primarily composed of algae it scrapes from rocks; amphipode, a delicate crab; and hydrometrid, a common water bug which can be up to 12 millimeters long. It lives in standing or slowly moving water and eats mainly mosquito larvae. The quiet waters typical of the part of the reserve dubbed the “Garden of Eden” contain a whole host of marine animals. The Reserve is also home to several species of fish. The Damascus barbel adapted to life in quickly flowing water,and can climb up meter-and-half-high waterfalls. The Levantine sicker, which can grow up to 14 centimeters long, is equipped with a special surface which enables it attach itself to rocks. Its source of nourishment is algae which it scrapes into its mouth. These two species live primarily in the deeper parts. In contrast, the 8-centimeter-long Jordan loach is found in all parts of the river. This fish can be identified by its pale yellow skin and large spots. It lives between the rocks on the riverbed or hides in the sand. Although is difficult to spot birds flying between the tangled branches, visitors can enjoy the chirping of the cetti warbler, a small songbird which hides and nests in the thicket. White wagtails sometimes nest on the “islands”. In recent years, many jays fly over the Reserve.
Our gratitude to the Authority for Nature and National Parks for their permission to use the text from their folder for our “Live” site.
Pictures by Pinhas Baraq