Tel Dan surveyor Gila Cook first spotted the “House of David” inscription in the glancing rays of the afternoon sun. She called over excavation director Avraham Biran, who, when he saw it, exclaimed, “Oh, my God, we have an inscription!” The photos show the fragmentary stela as it was found (above) and shortly after removal (below).

Broken in antiquity and reused as building material, the stela lay in a wall beneath the eighth-century B.C.E. destruction debris from Tiglath-pileser III’s conquest. The inscription’s 13 partially preserved lines in the Early Aramaic language, written in paleo-Hebrew script of the ninth century B.C.E., uses dots to separate the words (drawing, below). Based on associated pottery fragments and evidence from the inscription itself, Professor Biran suggests the stela was erected in the first half of the ninth century B.C.E. Biran and his colleagues continue to search for additional fragments of the stela.

In the translation, the material in brackets represents suggested reconstructions. Fortunately, the phrases “House of David” (the dynastic name of the kingdom of Judah) and “king of Israel” (often used without a specific name in the Books of Kings) need no reconstruction. The inscription seems to commemorate the victory of an Aramean king over the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. One of the Aramean king’s military commanders probably erected the stela, for it speaks of “my king” (line 6). In view of the date and the location in Galilee, among other factors, the stela may describe events in the war of Ben Hadad I against King Baasha of Israel in 885 B.C.E. (1 Kings 15:16–22; 2 Chronicles 16:1–6). In any case, it shows that Israel and Judah were important kingdoms in the ninth century B.C.E. When the Israelites reconquered Dan, they apparently destroyed the stela and used its pieces in the wall.