The Middle Bronze Age Gate
In the Middle Bronze Age, around the eighteenth century BCE, the occupants of Dan constructed a massive city gate on the eastern side of the city. Built entirely of mudbricks surviving today as high as 47 courses, the gate featured three enormous arches framing the entryway into the city. Classical archaeologists once boasted that it was the Romans who invented the arch sometime in the mid-first millennium BCE. We now know not only that the arch originated in the Near East, but that the so-called Canaanite gate at Tel Dan preserves the earliest intact archway in the world at almost 4000 years old!
Although now shielded by an enormous canopy, the gate is still vulnerable to the erosive dangers of the local ecology. Because of its historical significance and endangered status, the arched gate is a candidate for inscription in UNESCO’s manifest of World Heritage sites.
With its extreme humidity, the local environment in the Hula Valley and Golan Heights is not particularly kind to monumental mudbrick architecture, however, which perhaps explains why the residents of Dan decided to fill in the arches not long after their construction. Did the arches begin to give way? Did the builders not realize that local erosion would not permit such a structure to survive for long? David Ilan speculates that this oversight may suggest that the builders were foreigners who came to Dan from the upper Levant, where the climate was more conducive to Syro-Mesopotamian mudbrick edifices. In any case, we are fortunate that the builders decided to block off the arches, because it was this action alone that ironically permitted them to survive while contemporary arches did not.
In 2006, student volunteers unearthed an even earlier attempt by builders to construct a wall to encircle the city on its eastern side. Dating to the Middle Bronze Age IIA, this stone structure lies outside and below the mudbrick gate. For some reason, the architects decided to abandon this structure and relocate some of its stones to fashion the mudbrick gate’s approach. They left the foundation of the stone wall mostly intact as a revetment for the earthen rampart, which they then built against the left mudbrick tower of the arched gate complex.
With the gate’s entrance now exposed, we are beginning to learn more about the nature of the arch’s construction, preservation and susceptibility to the environment.
Students discover an earlier Middle Bronze stone wall beneath the earthern rampart.