Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have uncovered a fortress from the 11th to 10th centuries BC in the Golan Heights region of Israel. They believe that the complex dates to the time of King David , one of the most important figures in Jewish history. This find raises questions about the nature of the settlement of Golan Heights in the Iron Age. Moreover, it is throwing new light on a lost kingdom that once ruled this part of the Levant.
The amazing find was made before work began on a housing development in Hispin in the southern Golan. This area is administered by the Israeli government, but the international community do not recognize their right to govern this part of the Golan Heights. The excavation of the site involved residents and students from local academies.
Aerial image of the IAA excavation at Hispin in Golan Heights is unearthing what could be a King-David era fort. Source: Anya Kleiner / Israel Antiquities Authority
Iron Age Stronghold at Golan Heights
The complex was once very large and has some unique features. Barak Tzin and Enno Bron from the IAA told the Jerusalem Post that “the complex we exposed was built at a strategic location on the small hilltop, above the El-Al canyon, overlooking the region, at a spot where it was possible to cross the river.” The stronghold was used to control this strategic location.
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The walls of the fort are almost 5 feet wide (1.5 m) and would have been near-impregnable in the Iron Age. They are built of basalt blocks hewn from boulders and the walls encircle a hill. Tzin and Bron told the Jerusalem Post that “they were astonished to discover a rare and exciting find: a large basalt stone with a schematic engraving of two-horned figures with outspread arms.” They believe that another object may be buried next to the remarkable figure.
The Hispin stone, was found at the Golan Heights fort, near a gateway to the complex. ( Yaniv Berman/ Israel Antiquities Authority )
Cultic Hispin Stone from Ancient Moon God Cult
The Hispin stone, as it is known, was located near a gateway into the complex. It has been compared to a figure that was uncovered at the site of Bethsaida, north of the Sea of Galilee . The stele has a horned figure and was located next to a platform, situated by a gate into the city. It was identified as a cultic stone and related to the ancient Moon God Cult . World Israel News reports that archaeologists state that “it is possible that a person who saw the impressive Bethsaida stele decided to create a local copy of the royal stele.”
The apparent link between the ancient city of Bethsaida and the site in the Golan is potentially very revealing. The ancient city by the Sea of Galilee was the capital of an Aramean kingdom known as Geshur. In the Hebrew Bible , Geshur was an ally of King David , and later his successors. Also, the Jerusalem Post reports that “one of David’s wives was Maacah, the daughter of Talmi, king of Geshur.” Maacah was the mother of Absalom, who rebelled against his father according to the Bible.
The cultic stele discovered in the Bethsaida excavation back in 2019. Could it be linked in some way to the Golan Heights fort? ( Ivgeni Ostrovski / Israel Antiquities Authority )
Golan Heights Fort: Evidence of Lost Iron Age Kingdom
It was assumed that the Iron Age kingdom was mainly based around the Sea of Galilee. Some Geshurite cities were found in this area. According to World Israel News , the “cities of the Kingdom of Geshur are known along the Sea of Galilee shore, including Tel En Gev, Tel Hadar and Tel Sorag.”
However, Haaretz reports that “little is known from outside the Bible about this kingdom.” In particular, there have been few finds in relation to the state in the Golan. This discovery of the fortified complex at Hispin is changing the history of the kingdom. The Jerusalem Post states that “archaeologists will now start researching the possibility that the Geshur kingdom had a more extensive presence in the Golan than was previously thought.”
The fort discovered at Golan Heights is now being excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority. ( Yaniv Berman / Israel Antiquities Authority )
Was Geshur an Ally of King David?
There is little evidence found to show that Geshur was actually an ally of King David, as stated in the Bible. According to Haaretz, the archaeological evidence found at Hispin provides “little or no proof of a link to ancient Jerusalem.” It is believed that Geshur became a tributary state of his successors. Later it was annexed by one of the successors of David.
Following the discovery of the fortified complex at Golan Heights , plans are underway to change the development. Now the site will be preserved as a heritage site where archaeological educational activities will take place. Work is continuing at the site and more discoveries could yet be made about the kingdom of Geshur.
Top image: The image shows Ofri Eitan of the Kfar Hanasi pre-military Academi next to a large engraved stone discovered at the Golan Heights fort. Source: Tidhar Moav / Israel Antiquities Authority
By Ed Whelan