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Description, Surveys and Excavations

 Tell Abil el-Qameh, identified with the biblical town Abel Beth Maacah, is a 100-dunam site, located 4.5 miles west of Tel Dan and 1.2 miles south of Metulla on Israel's northern border with Lebanon. The site controls the roads leading north to the Lebanese Beq‘a, west Lebanese/ Phoenician coast (21 miles to Tyre), and northeast to inner and northern Syria (43 miles to Damascus). The tell is composed of a large lower mound in the south and a smaller lofty upper mound in the north.  It is mentioned in the Bible three times, in relation to the time of King David in the 10th century BCE (2 Samuel 20: 14ff), in relation to the Aramean conquest by Ben Hadad in the 9th century BCE (1 Kings 15:20) and in relation to the Neo-Assyrian conquest by Tiglath-Pilesar III in the 8th century BCE (2 Kings 15:29). In addition to these references to the city of Abel Beth Maacah, the bible refers to an entity/kingdom called “Maacah” (Joshua 13:11; 2 Samuel 10:6; 1 Chronicles 19:6) whose identity and relationship to Abel Beth Maacah remain enigmatic.

Despite its geographic and historical prominence, the site has never been excavated until now. Limited surveys were conducted Prof. William G. Dever of the University of Arizona, as well as Yehudah Dayan, Yosef Stefansky and Edan Shaked of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Pottery from the Early Bronze Age  II-III (third millennium BCE) until the Ottoman period was found. The small Arab village of Abil el-Qameh occupied about one-third of the mound until 1948, its ruins visible on the surface today. 

In May 2012, members of the present excavation team conducted a survey in order to build on the knowledge of the occupation sequence of the site and to select areas for full excavation. The pottery collected confirmed the occupation profile of previous surveys. The survey revealed that early remains may be found directly under topsoil in the lower tell, while they are partly covered by remains of the modern village in part of the upper tell. 

The excavations are conducted as a joint project between Azusa Pacific University of Los Angelels (director: Prof. Robert Mullins) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (directors: Dr. Naama Yahalom-Mack and Dr. Nava Panitz-Cohen).

 Six seasons of excavation, four weeks each, have been conducted from 2013-2108, with the participation of volunteers, students and staff from the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Israel. Five excavation areas have been opened, three in the lower mound (Areas F, O and K), one in the saddle between the lower and upper mound (Area A), and one on the eastern side of the upper mound in the north (Area B).  Although pottery from the Early Bronze II-III was found, the earliest architectural remains excavated so far date to the Middle Bronze IIB, including fortifications, graves, a sewage installation, a courtyard house, and numerous baby jar burials. Remains from the Late Bronze Age uncovered in the lower city include three main occupation phases, with a silver hoard in a jar found in the latest phase (LBIIB). Rich remains from the Iron Age I were found throughout the site, including a large and unique complex of buildings in Area A (the saddle between the upper and lower tell) with evidence of metalworking, surplus storage and cult. Three main strata belonging to the Iron I have so far been revealed in Area S. The latest Iron I occupation was violently destroyed, sometime in the 10th century BCE. The Iron Age IIA is represented by substantial architecture, including a massive casemate-like structure in the upper tell (Area B) that might be a citadel, dating to the 9th century BCE. In one of the rooms of this building, the head of a bearded male made of faience, of exceptionally high quality, was found, along with elaborate Phoenician Bichrome pottery. A large building dating to the Persian/early Hellenistic period was built just above this citadel. Remains from the Roman and Byzantine periods, as well as from the Middle Ages, comprise mostly pottery and incoherent walls.

The excavations to date have shed light on various important research questions, such as the interaction of Middle Bronze Age IIB city-states in the upper Hula Valley, the nature of transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age I in the shadow of the destruction of Hazor. and the relationship of this region to the Arameans, Israelites and Phoenicians in the Iron Age I and II.