According to the archaeological excavations at the site, the town was originally occupied in the late Neolithic era (c 4500 BCE), although at some time in the fourth millennium BC it was abandoned, for almost 1,000 years. According to the Book of Judges: prior to the Tribe of Dan occupying the land, the town was known as Laysha (Judges 18:7 and Isaiah 10:30) or Laish (elsewhere Judges 18) – which root the Hebrew poets applied also to the lion (Job 4:11, Proverbs 30:30 and Isaiah 30:5). The Egyptians cursed Laish in the Execration Tablets; later, Tuthmosis III conquered the town “ra-wy-sa” along others. In Joshua 19:47 it is called Leshem, which means “jewel”.
- The Dan Stream watercourse – the source of the water is the gushing abundance of the Dan Spring, creating a strong current.
- Paradise Springs – calmly babbling brooks creating channels along which the well-developed riverside forest offers charming and shady corners.
- Pooh Bear Tree – a large, a hollow tree – an attraction for children.
- Wading pools – shallow pools of refreshing, cool water alongside the hiking trail.
- Tel Dan – one of the largest ancient tels in Israel, with the remains of a 5000 year old city. The height of the city’s development was during the Canaanite and Israelite periods.
- Abraham Gate (the Canaanite Gate) – an ancient gate from the Canaanite period. The gate was made of mud bricks, and has been preserved to its full height of 7 m. Alongside the gate is a paved platform, reminiscent of biblical descriptions, and another gate from the Israelite period. Another noteworthy find is the ritual compound, harking back to the biblical story of the Golden Calf.
- The Israelite Gate – another gate from the Israelite period, and a paved podium recalling descriptions from the Bible.
- Ritual site – a ritual compound bringing to mind biblical stories of the Golden Calf.
- The flour mill – an ancient flour mill preserved in its entirety, but not operational today.
- Hiking trails for people with difficulty walking and families with baby buggies – in the entrance plaza are accessible toilets and accessible picnic benches. Accessible benches can be found throughout the site, alongside the hiking trails. The accessible trail begins at the entrance to the site, follows the first part of the hiking trail, and reaches the wading pool, the Israelite Gate, and the Abraham Gate (the Canaanite Gate). Another short trail goes to a new accessible observation point, looking out over a wooden terrace towards the flowing waters of the Dan Stream.
Points of interest in detail
- Dan Stream watercourse – the Dan Spring is the largest of the springs in the nature reserve. It is the most plentiful karstic spring in the Middle East, fed by the snow that accumulates on Mt Hermon every winter and trickles down to the springs at the foot of the hill. The output of the springs is an estimated 250 million m³ a year. The springs are considered to be constant, with no great changes in flow between winter and summer (unlike springs of the Hermon, Banyas and Snir-Hatsbani streams). The spring produces water at a low and steady temperature throughout the year.
- Paradise Springs – calmly babbling brooks creating channels along which a well-developed riverside forest grows. This is the only place in Israel with a “wetland forest” of northern trees – the narrow-leafed ash (Fraxinus angustifolia) and bay laurel (Laurus nobilis). This forest is shady throughout the year, and is home to many species of climbers. Cool rivulets flow at the foot of the trees, populated by rare salamanders and invertebrates.
- Pooh Bear Tree – a large, old narrow-leafed ash – a northern species, Israel being the southernmost point of its distribution. The trunk of the tree is hollow, and as a result it attracts both children and adults. In the past, there were other large trees on the slopes of Tel Dan, such as the Palestine oak (Quercus calliprinos) and the Mt Atlas mastic tree (Pistacia atlantica), but these were destroyed by fire due to the negligence of hikers.
- Wading pool – a shallow pool that is part of the hiking trail. An excellent place to get your feet wet in the cool and refreshing waters of the pool. An accessible path for people with difficulty walking reaches this pool. It has recently been expanded and surrounded by a wooden deck and benches, accessible to people with disabilities. The wading pool is the only place in the nature reserve where it is permitted to paddle in the water. Wading is prohibited in other parts of the nature reserve in order to protect the natural habitat from matter being stirred up from the bed of the river.
- Tel Dan – the remains of a 5000 year old ancient city. The city reached its height during the Canaanite and Israelite periods. In Canaanite times, it was called Laish or Leshem. The city is mentioned in the Bible, in particular in connection with the capture of the city by the tribe of Dan, which migrated here from its original land in the Judean plains, and changed its name to Dan after the forefather of the tribe. Dan was a major reference point in the unified kingdom – “from Dan to Beersheba”. After the kingdom was divided Jeroboam, son of Nabat, made Dan one of the two centers of worship in the Kingdom of Israel, at which golden calves were set up. The city decreased in importance with the development of the nearby city of Panias (Banias)
Following the War of Independence, a large military post was set up on the tel in order to protect Kibbutz Dan and the Dan Springs. This post was active until 1967, and it is still possible to see the remains of communication trenches and bunkers. A Syrian tractor was also brought here, used by the Syrians to divert the sources of the Jordan River in the 1960s.
- Abraham Gate (the Canaanite Gate) – the most impressive find of the Tel Dan excavations is the ancient Canaanite Gate. The gate was built of mud bricks, and has three arches that are considered to be the earliest of their kind in the world. The gate has been preserved to its full height of 7 m. The Nature and Parks Authority has implemented measures to protect the gate from weather damage.
- The Israelite Gate – the remains of the entrance gate to the city of Dan and the fortification walls from the Israelite period. The remains of a palanquin were found at the site, on which the ruler of the city would have been enthroned, alongside benches for the elders of the city.
- Ritual site – another noteworthy find is the ritual compound, with a paved platform. This structure recalls the biblical stories of the golden calves.
- The flour mill – the remains of a number of flour mills were found at Tel Dan, which used the strong current of the water to turn the millstones and grind flour. The flour mill that can be seen today along the hiking trail is the latest of them, and was in operation until the 1960s. It has been conserved and work was carried out to stabilize the walls, which were in danger of collapse. The aqueduct bringing water to the mill has also been conserved, and now carries water to a part of the nature reserve where water has not flowed for many years.
- Trail for people with difficulty walking, and families with baby buggies – an accessible trail has been made in the first section of the hiking trail, reaching the wading pool and the Abraham Gate (the Canaanite Gate).
There are two observation points in the nature reserve on Tel Dan:
- The Army Post observation point – on the northern part of the tel. The observation point looks out over the Naftali Hills, Lebanon, the village of Ghajar on the border, the route of the diversion channel, Nokhila Springs, and the slopes of Mt Dov. Alongside it are the trenches of the army post that was abandoned in 1967, and visitors can walk along them.
- Ha’ela observation point – on the south of the tel. The observation point offers a view of the Naftali Hills, the slopes of the Golan, and the Hula Valley. The observation point is named after the unique Pistacia saporta tree that grows here. The Hebrew name of the tree is “hybrid pistacia”, because it is a kind of hybrid of the terebinth and the mastic tree.
- The River observation point – a new lookout that has been made accessible for people with mobility problems and for baby buggies. The observation point has a wooden deck. It is located in the picnic area and looks out over the flowing waters of the Dan Stream.
- Views of the Dan Stream from wooden bridges – along the stream there are several wooden bridges, and an observation platform over the course of the gushing water. The rushing stream and the clamor of the water create a multisensory experience.