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Tel Abel Beth Maacah
View of Tell Abil el-Qameḥ - Tel Abel Beth Maacah, looking southeast.png
Abel-beth-maachah is located in Israel
Shown within Israel
Location Near Metula, Israel
Coordinates 33°15′25″N 35°34′48″E / 33.257°N 35.580°E / 33.257; 35.580Coordinates: 33°15′25″N 35°34′48″E / 33.257°N 35.580°E / 33.257; 35.580
Site notes
Website Tel Abel Beth Maacah Excavations Website

The site[edit]

Tel Abel Beth Maacah (Tell Abil el-Qameḥ) is a large mound located on the northern border of present-day Israel, about 2 km south of the village of Metulla and about 6.5 km west of Tel Dan.
Tel Abel Beth Maacah.png
The site is approximately 100 dunams (10 hectares) in size and sits astride the narrow defile of Nahal Iyyon, one of the four headwaters of the Jordan River. The Tanur Waterfall, fed by the Iyyon, is located just north of the site. From its strategic vantage point overlooking the narrow northern end of the fertile Huleh Valley, the site commands roads leading north to the Lebanese Beq‘a, northeast to inland Syria (Damascus) and Mesopotamia, and west to the Lebanese/Phoenician coast. The tell is identified with Abel Beth-Maacah mentioned in the Bible and consists of an upper mound in the north and a larger lower mound in the south, with a moderately high saddle between them.
The location of the town in such a strategic spot points to it having played a major role in the interaction between the various national groups and political powers in the Bronze Age (Canaanites, Hurrians/Mitannians, Egyptians, and Hittites) and the Iron Age (Israelites, Arameans and Phoenicians). Abel Beth Maacah was a border town, and as such, was exposed to these influences at the same time that it fulfilled the role of buffering foreign invasions. Its proximity to numerous water sources and a rich agricultural hinterland was yet another factor in making Abel Beth Maacah a large and prominent site in antiquity.

Identification of the Tell with Abel-beth-maacah of the Bible[edit]

Tel Abel Beth Maacah – view of the northern part of the tell from the east; the Lebanese village of Adaisse in the background

The tell was described by a number of prominent 19th century explorers, including Victor Guérin, F.M. Abel and Edward Robinson, who was the first to identify the mound with biblical Abel Beth Maacah (Avel Bet Macakha), a proposal that has been accepted by most scholars, based largely on historical-geographical considerations. The identification is based mainly on the appearance of the town in two geographic lists in the Bible. In 1 Kings 15:20, the Aramean king Ben-Hadad I was solicited in the 9th century BCE by King Asa of Judah to attack the northern kingdom. He did successfully, although apparently soon after this, control over this region returned to Israelite hands during the reign of Ahab. “Ben-hadad listened to King Asa, and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel. He conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-beth-maacah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali”. A similar geographic list is noted in the story of the Assyrian conquest of the region in the late 8th century BCE in 2 Kings 15:29: “In the days of King Pekah of Israel, King Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and carried the people captive to Assyria”. The city is also called Abel Maim in 2 Chronicles 16:4.

Second Millennium BCE and Biblical References[edit]

Bronze Age references to the site include the early group of the Execration Texts (Middle Bronze IIA) and possibly Thutmose III’s list of destroyed towns (Late Bronze I), as well as the Amarna letters (Late Bronze IIA) (Dever 1984: 211–213). After the Assyrian conquest, the site is not mentioned in any later sources.

Aside from the two geographic lists quoted above in relation to the conquest of the town by the Arameans and the Assyrians, the site is mentioned one other time in the Bible: 2 Samuel 20:14–22, which relates a call for revolt against David by a Benjaminite named Sheba ben Bichri. Sheba fled to Abel Beth Maacah, pursued by Joab and his army. Setting up a siege at the town, Joab threatened to destroy it, when the local Wise Woman (possibly an oracle) informed him that the city was loyal to David, calling it “a city and a mother in Israel” (2 Samuel 20:19) and arranged to have the rebel who took refuge there beheaded, and thus saving her town. This is the only time the phrase “a city and a mother in Israel” is mentioned in the Bible and might allude to its particular political and/or religious status. This narrative also emphasizes the town as the northernmost point of the Israelite state entity at that time (or perhaps somewhat later, considering that this narrative could reflect a time later in Iron Age II than the reign of David).

Though speculative and to be taken cautiously, the conquest of Abel Beth Maacah by Ben-hadad I may be alluded to in the second line of the ‘House of David’ inscription found at nearby Tel Dan, where the letters aleph and bet have survived and might be the beginning of the name of the town “Abel” (Schneidewind 1996:77; Naaman 2012:95, note 10).

Previous Exploration[edit]

Despite its obvious historical importance and geographic prominence, Abel Beth Maacah was not excavated before 2012. Previous study of the site involved periodic visits by representatives of the British Mandatory Department of Antiquities and limited surveys carried out by the Israel Department of Antiquities in the 1950s, by Yehudah Dayan in the 1960s, and by Prof. W. G. Dever of the University of Arizona in 1972, who summarily published the results, along with a detailed historical-geographical analysis (Dever 1986). Subsequently, a small salvage excavation conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority at the base of the southeastern slope revealed several Byzantine tombs, as well as a group of Middle Bronze IIB vessels that seemed typical of a tomb assemblage, although no tomb from this period was found (Stepansky 2005).

Current Exploration of the Site[edit]

The excavation of Tel Abel Beth Maacah has been initiated and generously funded by Azusa Pacific University of Los Angeles, and is conducted as a joint project with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, co-directed by Dr. Robert Mullins of the former institution and Dr. Nava Panitz-Cohen of the latter. The surveyor and stratigraphic advisor is Ruhama Bonfil of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. [1]

The project began in 2012 with a survey followed by four excavation seasons to date (2013-2016). For detailed field reports of each season, see www.abel-beth-maacah.org, and for published preliminary reports, see Panitz, Mullins and Bonfil 2013, 2016.

The 2012 Survey[edit]

The ring flask from Area A (survey)

In May 2012, a four-day survey was conducted, combining an extensive walking survey with limited shallow (up to 10 cm) excavation in six areas spread around the site. For a detailed report of the survey, see http://www.abel-beth-maacah.org/index.php/2012-survey. The survey showed that there was occupation in the Early Bronze II-III, Middle Bronze II, Late Bronze I-II, Iron Age I-II, Persian, Hellenistic, Byzantine, early Islamic, Crusader, Mameluke and Ottoman periods. The survey also revealed that the lower part of the tell in the south has an outcropping of bedrock running through much of its center, indicating that the ancient remains in this part of the should be sought around its perimeter.

The Excavations[edit]

Five areas have been excavated to date: Area A on the eastern slope of the middle saddle (remains of Iron Age I), Area B on the eastern slope of the upper mound (remains of Persian-early Hellenistic, Iron Age II), Area F on the southern end of the lower mound (remains of MBII, LB, Iron I), Area O on the western edge of the lower mound (remains of LB, MBII), and Area K on the eastern slope of a topographical depression between the lower and upper mounds (remains of large stone walls, possibly a fortification). In wake of the survey and excavations to date, it was found that the lower mound was not occupied after the Iron Age I (early 10th century BCE), and even in modern times, it served as agricultural land for the villagers who occupied the more northern part of the mound.

Excavation areas are marked on this 1945 aerial photo of the tell (Aerial Photographic Archive, Geography Department, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, taken by the Royal Air Force, Section 23, 1945); houses of the Arab village Abil el-Qameḥ visible.

Excavation areas marked on 1945 aerial photo.jpg

The Middle Bronze II Age[edit]

Remains of the Middle Bronze II Age have been revealed to date in two areas: fortifications in Area F (at the southern end of the lower mound) and houses in Area O (on the western edge of the lower mound).

Area F[edit]

A structure whose extant remains measure 6.5 x 7.7 m was revealed just under topsoil. Its southern end continues down the slope and its western end was cut by later activity.. The feature is composed of an outer ‘lining’ of very large, roughly worked rectangular stones in its northeastern corner and northern wall, which enclosed layers of small-medium roughly rounded stones. It seems that this structure was a tower that was part of the rampart's support, strategically placed on the southern end of the site, overlooking the Huleh Valley and the main north-south road that passed alongside it on the west.
View of the tower, with its northeastern corner of large boulders and the layers of small stones, looking southwest
Adjoining the eastern face of the tower is a rampart, the top of which was lined with small-medium stones identical to those inside the tower, and lined on the north by similar large boulders that extended from the eastern face of the tower to the northeast. These stones capped layers of chalky white material and dark brown soil, of which only the top has so far been excavated.

The tower and the rampart layers were damaged by round pits and stone silos that subsequently cut into them during the Iron Age I, showing that this feature no longer served as a fortification at that time.

The exact date of the tower and rampart cannot yet be determined, as no floors associated with them have been revealed to date. Abutting the northern face of the tower and rampart are strata and architecture of the Late Bronze Age I-II, so that it the fortification should most likely be dated to the Middle Bronze II, though a more precise chronology cannot be fixed yet.

The rampart layers, capped by small-medium stones, looking north; Iron I pits and stone silos cut into the layers

Area O[edit]

One, and possibly two strata, dated to the Middle Bronze IIB were exposed underneath an eroded phase below topsoil that appears to be of the Late Bronze Age.

The Middle Bronze Age stratum consists of finely-built stone wall foundations and related earthen floors and debris layers. Four consecutive rooms have been revealed to date, with entrances in two of them, showing that the rooms were part of one building that continues to the north. The structure is eroded on the south and the east (on the cusp of the western slope). Traces of a violent end to this occupation were identified. The pottery can be dated to Middle Bronze IIB and included many storage jars (some with baby burials) and pithoi. In the northeastern corner of the area, the skeleton of a large male was found lying on its stomach and partly covered by a pithos.

The lowest phase exposed consists of the top of a layer of stones on the western edge of the mound that might be part of a fortification. No floors associated with this layer have been found so far, and the small amount of related pottery is mixed MB II and EB II-III.

Area B

Underneath remains dating to Iron Age I and IIA, a large rampart composed mainly of diagonal gravelly layers was revealed. An MBIIC grave that contained a Hyksos scarab was cut into this rampart and it is tentatively dated to MBIIB. This rampart shows that the upper mound in the north was occupied and fortified during the Middle Bronze Age IIB, although the nature and direction of the rampart here is different that that found in the lower mound in the south (Areas F and possibly, K).

The Late Bronze Age[edit]

Remains of the Late Bronze Age were revealed in Area F, at the southern end of the lower mound and in Area O, on the western edge of the lower mound.

Area F[edit]

Three architectural strata, debris layers, and floors from the Late Bronze Age were revealed, abutting the northern face of the MBII tower and rampart. The incorporation of these two elements as part of the LB buildings indicates that the fortifications were still in use during this period. The earliest LB stratum, built on top of what seems to be the foundation of the tower, includes two nicely built north-south walls; an earthen layer (floor?) with a well-built oven was found to the west of these walls; the pottery points to an LB I date. The third and latest LB stratum contained several walls (cut by Iron Age I silos and pits). On the earthen floor was a concentration of pottery and a small jug (a local imitation of a Cypriot bilbil) that contained a silver hoard. The 12 pieces found inside included earrings, an ingot, and possibly, hacksilver.

The latest LB layer in Area F can be dated to LBIIB (13th century BCE) and the remains exposed so far indicate that it did not end in a destruction, but was peacefully abandoned. These remains were later built over by an Iron I building and cut by Iron I silos and pits.

The jug with the silver hoard, as found (photo by Gabi Laron


Area O[edit]

Remains uncovered just below topsoil in Area O are attributed to the Late Bronze Age, since they rested on top of a building attributed to MB IIB and on the basis of the small amount of pottery found associated with them.

Iron Age I[edit]

Remains of Iron Age I have been revealed mainly in Area A on the eastern edge of the saddle between the lower and upper mounds, where five strata belonging to this period have been excavated, as well as in Area F. In both areas, the pottery included many collared-rim jars, wavy band pithoi, small hemispherical bowls, a variety of vertical cooking pot rims, pyxides, painted carinated kraters, and piriform jugs.
Selection of Iron I pottery forms, Areas A and F

Area F[edit]

Above the latest Late Bronze Age layer (dated to the 13th century BCE, LBIIB) were remains attributed to the Iron Age I based on the pottery (including collared-rim jars, pyxides, and jugs) found in pits and stone silos dug into the stone capping of the MBII tower, into the chalk and brown soil layers of the MBII rampart, and into LB walls. One of these pits, cut deep against the wall of the MBII tower, contained a concentration of discarded cultic vessels. This is a good indication that the fortification, which was used throughout the Late Bronze Age, went out of commission in Iron Age I. The other Iron I feature in Area F is a stone building with at least three rooms, one with a stone floor. To the north of the building is what seems to be a courtyard or alleyway, with a number of stone-lined pits or installations that contained Iron I pottery, as well as an iron blade. These remains were exposed just below topsoil.
Iron I building in foreground-MBII tower and rampart in background; looking south

Area A[edit]

Four strata are attributed to Iron Age I in Area A, located on the eastern side of the saddle between the upper and lower mounds. This is one of the densest stratigraphic sequences attributed to this period in this region. Above the uppermost Iron I stratum were several flimsy modern agricultural terrace walls, but no ancient remains later than the end of Iron I (late 11th-early 10th centuries BCE).

The earliest stratum revealed to date appears in a few probes and contains several well-built stone walls and related debris layers with stone collapse and much pottery. The stratum above this has a structure apparently of a cultic nature, with various installations, such as a pit with animal bones, massebot (standing stones), and a small bamah (altar). This occupation was violently destroyed, leaving large amounts of pottery, including collar-rim jars, pyxides, carinated jugs and kraters. Replacing the destroyed cultic(?) area was a layer of domestic nature, with many ovens, installations, earthen floors and a few stone walls. Directly above this, a very finely constructed complex was built, comprising a courtyard-like building on the east, a building complex on the west with a large open space on the south and room(s) on the north. A wide passageway runs between them. The external walls of the buildings facing the passageway are lined with stone buttresses, further supporting the nature of this complex as public and perhaps administrative. In the western hall/courtyard, a complete pot bellows was revealed, with traces of bronze and iron working inside; an almost complete tuyere was found nearby. It seems that there was some metallurgical activity in this area, similar to that at nearby Tel Dan in Strata VI and V (and possibly IV).

Aerial view of Area A, end of 2015 excavation season, looking west

Iron Age II and the Persian-Early Hellenistic Period-Area B[edit]

A large well-built stone building with three phases and dating to the Persian-early Hellenistic period was exposed in Area B. Below this building are architectural remains attributable to Iron Age II, including the top of a stone wall under the western part of this building and a layer of burnt debris, fallen bricks and collapsed stones to the east of the building’s foundations. The pottery recovered from these earlier layers can be dated to Iron Age IIA and Iron Age IIB. Iron Age I and Late Bronze Age sherds were found here as well, indicating that the area was occupied at that time as well.
Persian-Early Hellenistic stone building above Iron Age II remains

Area K Fortifications[edit]

Located on the eastern slope of the northern end of the lower mound, in a spot whose moderate topography suggests the possibility of a gate here, a north-south stone wall was revealed, ca. 4 m wide and abutted partially on its south side by a white chalky layer. This might represent a fortification system, although no date is possible at this point.

Field Reports[edit]

Field reports and additional references are posted on http://www.abel-beth-maacah.org


Dever, W.G. 1986. Abel-beth-Maacah: Northern Gateway of Ancient Israel. pp. 207–223. In L.T. Geraty and L.G. Herr (eds.). The Archaeology of Jordan and Other Studies. Presented to Siegfried H. Horn. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press.

Na’aman, N. 2012. The Kingdom of Geshur in History and Memory. Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament: An International Journal of Nordic Theology 26:1: 88–101.

Panitz-Cohen, N., Mullins, R.A. and Bonfil, R. 2013. Northern Exposure: Launching Excavations at Tell Abil el-Qameḥ (Tel Abel Beth Maacah). Strata 31: 27–42.

Panitz-Cohen, N., Mullins, R.A. and Bonfil, R. 2016. Second Preliminary Report of the Excavations at Tell Abil el Qameḥ (Abel Beth Maacah). Strata 33: 35–59.

Schneidewind, W.M. 1996. Tel Dan Stela – New Light on Aramaic and Jehu’s Revolt. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 302: 75–90.

Stepansky, Y. 2005. Tel Avel Bet Ma‘akah. Journal 117.



  1. ^ Participating institutions include Cornell University, Trinity International University, Asbury Theological Seminary, Indiana Wesleyan University, the University of Arizona, Scottsdale Community College, Hebrew Union College, and the Pillar Seminary. Logistics are provided by Dr. Oren Gutfeld of Israel Archaeological Services.

External links[edit]