During July–August 2004 a salvage excavation was conducted c. 100 m north of Tel Dan (Permit No. A-4222; map ref. NIG 26125/79517; OIG 21125/29517), following the discovery of ancient remains in a channel dug for the placement of an electric cable. The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Electric Company, was directed by M. Hartal, with the assistance of Y. Ya‘aqoby (administration), V. Essman and V. Pirsky (surveying), Y. Nagar (physical anthropology), D. Syon (metal detection), A. Shapiro (GPS) and laborers from the Ayelet Ha-Shahar community center.
Probes by mechanical equipment were cut along the cable channel, whose digging exposed fragments of pottery vessels and burnt bones. The excavation was undertaken in the eastern part of the channel, on the slope of a low hill covered by basalt and rising gently north of the Nuheila Conduit. Two excavation areas (A and B; c. 110 sq m) were opened along the probes in the channel (Fig. 1), revealing tombs that dated to the seventh–sixth centuries BCE and a floor and wall from the tenth–ninth centuries BCE.
A cracked bedrock surface that sloped from north to south and was overlaid with fractured and broken stones was exposed in the eastern part of the area (Fig. 2). The burial remains of young individuals (c. 15–20 years of age) from the seventh and sixth centuries BCE were found in the grooves and recesses of bedrock. The tombs were not excavated and the bones that were poorly preserved were left in place. One of the deceased was covered with stones and another was covered with a heap of stones. Three of the interred were in a supine position, their heads to the east and feet to the west. Remains of fire and burnt bones, mainly those of animals, were discerned above the tombs. Most of the tombs were devoid of funerary offerings, yet nearby were bronze bracelets, bronze and silver toggle pins, silver earrings, bronze and iron arrowheads and others. One tomb, which was deeper than the others, contained a complete ‘torpedo’ storage jar. Two small dipper juglets were found near another tomb. Fragments of a pottery vessel and burnt bones, deformed by heat, were found on bedrock; it is unclear whether the bones were human or those of an animal.
The ground character changed to the west of the bedrock surface. The soil was mixed with small stones and overlaid with crumbled bedrock. One of the tombs was different than the rest in its method of construction and orientation and it seems to predate the others. An elliptical wall built of fieldstones surrounded a burial cell of stone slabs (Fig. 3). The gap between the perimeter wall and the stone-lined cell was filled with ground travertine. The cell contained the skeleton of a young adolescent, 15 years of age, whose head was to the north and feet to the south, but no other datable finds. On the ruins of its eastern wall were fragments of an Iron Age jar. Similar tombs, which were excavated several years ago at the Levi’a Compound in the Golan Heights, were dated to the beginning of the Early Bronze Age I. (HA-ESI 109:14*–15*) The plan of our tomb resembles the dolmens of the Intermediate Bronze Age, although its stones are considerably smaller than those of the dolmens, some of them located on the hill, not far from the excavation area.
Two jar burials were located to the southwest of the tomb. One of the jars, whose upper part was missing, was probably covered with a flat basalt stone. Another stone nearby may have been used as a mazzeva (Fig. 4). The only finds inside the jar were disintegrated bones that were damaged, most likely, by the roots of a tree that grew in the jar and twisted within it. Two small bronze bracelets indicate that this was probably a juvenile interment.
West of the jar was a holemouth krater with a disc base, which contained the burnt and crushed bones of an adult individual, over 20 years of age, without any funerary offerings (Fig. 5). The finds pointed to a cremation burial, which was a customary method in Phoenicia and may reflect the cultural ties between Tel Dan and Phoenicia. Remains of another skeleton, which was not excavated, consisted of a skull and long bones that rested next to the cremation urn. Some 5 m to the west, numerous fragments of pottery vessels from the seventh–sixth centuries BCE were found.
On the western boundary of Area A was a tomb of an adult, over 30 years of age; near it were the skulls of two infants, aged half a year old and one and a half years old. Adjacent to the skeleton were two beads, one of bronze and the other of glass, two earrings and a bronze ring. On the surface close to the tomb were the head of a large javelin and the head of an iron spear whose relationship to the tomb is unclear.
Some 50 m west of Area A, bedrock was exposed close to surface and therefore, the area was not excavated. Further along, bedrock descended to the west and a layer of intensely burnt earth that was turned red in color abutted it. In the middle of the red layer were the foundations of a wall (0.6 m thick), built of small fieldstones (Fig. 6). The burnt layer was devoid of any finds and it seems that this was virgin soil that was probably used for cremating bodies. It was overlaid with numerous fragments of pottery vessels from the tenth–ninth centuries BCE. It is possible that in the surrounding area was an installation for burning, which may have been connected with the cremation.
Excavations were conducted at Tel Dan for decades, but until now none of the city’s cemeteries were discovered. Our excavation exposed a small section of the Iron Age cemetery. The widespread method of burial––placing the deceased on bedrock and not in a proper grave––explains perhaps why it was so difficult to locate the cemeteries. The burials are contemporary with the last settlement stratum of Dan, following the Assyrian conquest. The cremations and burials in bedrock cracks probably indicate that the deceased were not Jewish. Animals were probably sacrificed above the tombs and their bones were burnt. The cremations attest to the cultural ties with Phoenicia. The rich assortment of metal artifacts included bracelets, earrings, toggle pins, arrowheads, a spear and a javelin, made of Iron, bronze and silver. The burnt surface in Area B predated the cemetery by hundreds of years.