The Tel Abel Beth Maacah Excavations are a joint project between Azusa Pacific University, Los Angeles (Robert A. Mullins) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Naama Yahalom-Mack and Nava Panitz-Cohen).
Academic advisors: Prof. Amihai Mazar (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Prof. Lawson Younger (Trinity International University).
This project has been made possible by the very generous financial support of friends and alumni of Azusa Pacific University, Los Angeles, as well as private donors. Details can be found on this website, under the heading “Thanks to our Generous Donors and Supporters”. Two Israel Science Foundation grants awarded to Prof. Naama Yahalom-Mack also fund the project since 2017.
Description, Surveys and Excavations
Tell Abil el-Qameh, identified with the biblical 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 to the Lebanese/ Phoenician coast (21 miles to Tyre), and northeast to inner and northern Syria (43 miles to Damascus as the crow flies). The tell is composed of a large lower mound in the south and a smaller lofty upper mound in the north, with a moderate saddle joining them in the middle. It is mentioned in the Bible three times, in the story of the Wise Woman who saved the town ascribed 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 historic prominence, the site has never been excavated until the present project. 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. The small Arab village of Abil el-Qameh, whose name preserved the ancient name ‘Abel’, was apparently established in the Mameluke period and occupied about one-third of the mound until 1948, its ruins still 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, revealing sherds from the Early Bronze II-III, Middle Bronze IIB, Late Bronze, Iron Age I, Iron Age II, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Medieval and Ottoman periods. The survey revealed that early remains may be found directly under topsoil in the lower city, while they are partly covered by remains of the village in part of the upper city.
To date, nine seasons of excavation, most four weeks each, have been conducted from 2013-2021, with the participation of volunteers from the United States, Canada, Europe,Australia, New Zealand and Israel.Two surveys were carried (2012, 2020) in order to obtain a complete chronological profile of the site. 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). In the lower mound, the earliest architectural remains date to the Middle Bronze IIB, with rather meager remains from the Late Bronze Age and substantial remains from Iron Age I-IIA. Following the latter period, it seems that the lower mound was abandoned and occupation took place only in the middle saddle and in the upper mound in the north, where remains of the Persian-early Hellenistic and Roman periods, Iron Age IIA and I, Late Bronze, and Middle Bronze IIB have been revealed.
The excavations to date have shed light on various important research questions, such as the relationship of this region to the Phoenicians and the Arameans in the late Iron Age I and Iron Age IIA, the interaction of Middle Bronze Age IIB cities and their nature and scope in Late Bronze Age cities 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 geo-political status of the city during the time of the Israelite Kingdom, when it is debated whether this region was part of that kingdom and if so, when? Among the many finds are Middle Bronze IIB fortifications, dwellings and jar and pit burials, a Late Bronze IIB silver hoard, Iron Age I cultic building and an industrial-administrative-cultic complex with unique installations and many pithoi typical of that period, an Iron IIA citadel complex containing several luxury items such as the faience head of an elite male and an elaborate imported Phoenician Bichrome jar. Also belonging to the Iron IIA are special finds such as a storehouse with over 35 jars, one of which bearing a Hebrew inscription and a jar containing a cache of 406 astragali bones meant for divination, An interesting discovery is (to date) the lack of a clear late 8th century BCE destruction level that can be attributed to the Neo-Assyrian conquest, as mentioned in 2 Kings 15:29).