The Expedition

A New Chapter in Archaeology Unfolds

Beginning in 1966, renowned Israeli archaeologist Avraham Biran mined the mound of Tel Dan for its secrets. After nearly thirty years of excavation, he concluded his work with the amazing discovery of the House of David inscription. In addition to training a generation of younger archaeologists, Biran made a series of remarkable discoveries about the Bronze Age cultures of the southern Levant, the Israelite settlement of the northern Galilee, and the establishment of a royal political and religious center of the biblical kingdom of Israel. After all these accomplishments, however, the artifacts of more than ninety percent of the mound still lie underground waiting to be discovered.

Now a new generation of scholars has returned to the site in an effort to recover the cultural treasures lost to history. In 2005, the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion launched a new expedition at Tel Dan in northern Israel to answer the enduring historical questions that only buried artifacts can answer.

• Who were the ancient Israelites and Canaanites?

• What became of the so-called lost tribe of Dan? And how do the materials left behind

• Was the biblical dynasty of David an authentic political entity?

• What shape did rituals and sacred places take in ancient Israelite religion, the framework of which facilitated the development of Judaism and Christianity?

Student volunteers sift through Bronze Age pottery in 2006.

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As the discipline of archaeology has matured, refinements in method and technology have permitted scholars to ask bold new questions and test original hypotheses. Advances in palaeobotany, hydrology, forensics and microscopy allow us investigate avenues of ancient ecology, domestic space and diet, which were difficult to examine in the mid- to late twentieth century. The use of radiation-sensitive instruments now allows us to study the nature and origin of ceramics, paint, metals, and gems. These newer methods have sensitized younger archaeologists to the need to construct theoretical rubrics that do justice to the complexity of the data they uncover.

• What can the study of ancient ecology and architecture tell us about the prehistoric people who first urbanized the region and established a vibrant cultural presence millennia before the biblical period?

• What long-term patterns of environmental and climate change can we reconstruct? And what value might these patterns hold for studying land use and settlement in the present?

• Do Bronze Age building techniques hold clues about the complex relationship between the environment and immigration?

• What can the rich inventory of ceramic evidence tell us about ethnic diversity and commercial interaction between the indigenous population and foreign trading partners?

• How did Tel Dan remain a center of religious significance into the Greco-Roman period, long after the Israelites had vanished from the region?

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