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
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
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
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
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.