Tel Dan Excavations Closed Down by Hezbollah Rockets

Monday, July 3, 2006

The Hebrew Union College archaeological expedition to Tel Dan was closed down Friday July 14th. We had planned to finish digging Friday July 21st. 

Things began to go wrong late Wednesday morning, July 12th, when an Israeli howitzer battery located nearby began firing in the direction of Lebanon. This is not a new experience for Tel Dan veterans—artillery fire from Israeli artillery is a fairly frequent occurrence in the area and can usually can be attributed to maneuvers or single warning shots aimed far away from the site (a 155 mm howitzer has a range of 12 miles). This time however, the shelling was continuous. 

We decided to have everyone go back to our lodgings at the Mt. Hermon Field School. Rumors began circulating that the army was asking people in Kiryat Shemona to go down to the bomb shelters. David Ilan gave a snap lecture in the bomb shelter (on pilgrimage to Tel Dan in the Iron Age), after which we set out for a tour of Nimrod's Castle, at the foot of Mt. Hermon, overlooking the Hula Valley. From this magnificent perch we could see the smoke rising up from brush fires in Lebanon, set by exploding Israeli artillery shells. 

By this time it was clear that the artillery barrages were part of a longer-term event. When we got back to the field school we called our transport company and asked for a bus to take our volunteers to Jerusalem. In the meantime our faculty members from Asbury Seminary arranged emergency lodgings at the Jerusalem University College, to whom we are indebted for their kind hospitality (they were poised to shut down for summer break). When the bus arrived, we loaded up quickly and said hasty goodbyes. 

Archaeological excavations are usually goal oriented. Often you know that results will only come after an initial investment of hard work with little to show. We had just about finished the hard work phase and were coming down upon the good Iron Age levels. In Area B, supervised by Greg Snyder of HUC-JIR, we hoped to expose new architecture that would allow us to create a contiguous plan of 1000 square meters and retrieve Carbon 14 samples from annual seeds that would allow us to date our strata better. In Area L, supervised by Yifat Thareani-Sussely of Tel Aviv University, we were hoping to expose houses and streets of the 7th century BCE, the period of the Assyrian conquest. We were stopped short in both areas. Fortunately, in Area K, supervised by Hal Bonnette (of Reston, Virginia), we managed to do most of what we wanted, almost completely exposing the intact façade of the Middle Bronze Age mud brick gate and a previously unknown wall of an earlier phase of the Middle Bronze Age. 

Will we be digging at Dan again? We probably will, but it's not clear when and in which format. There are still things we need to clarify as part of the process of final publication. The Tel Dan, Hazor and Kinrot excavations, and many others to a lesser degree, were casualties of Middle Eastern politics of the worst kind. In our case this was particularly ironic because our first two weeks included a group of 40 Arab and Jewish junior high schoolaged scouts from the Galilean settlements of Shfaram, Kabul, Shaab and Hanita. This great group and its leaders showed us how we can work together toward common goals, how we can study a common history, even when we agree to disagree. It was a sight to behold and gives us hope for the future, even as the Katushya rockets terrorize the Galilee and Israeli jets wreak havoc in Lebanon. 

Dr. David Ilan, HUC Jerusalem
Prof. Nili Fox, HUC Cincinnati
Dr. Jason Kalman, HUC Cincinnati 


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu