Ancient Arad is located in the Negev, some 30 km. northeast of Be'er Sheva, on a hill that rises 40 m. above the surrounding plain.
During the 18 seasons of excavation conducted from 1962-1984, it became clear that the remains of ancient Arad are located in two separate areas and are from two distinct periods. The Canaanite city (3rd millennium BCE) was located mainly on the southern slope of the hill. On the summit of this hill, several fortresses were built in the period of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah (10th-6th centuries BCE) and also later, during the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman periods (5th century BCE to 4th century CE). In the Early Arab period (7th-10th century), a fortified caravansary was established to protect the trade routes which passed there.
Arad is mentioned in the Bible in the story of the failed attempt to reach the Promised Land (Numbers 21:1) and in the list of the Canaanite kings defeated by the Children of Israel. (Joshua 12:14) There exists, however, a historical-chronological problem with this biblical account, as there is no evidence that Tel (Heb., mound) Arad was inhabited during the Late Bronze Age. Scholars suggest that the King of Arad mentioned in the Bible was in fact the ruler of the Kingdom of Arad, "the Negev of Arad" (Judges 1:16), whose capital was another city.
The Canaanite City
During the Early Bronze Age (2950-2650 BCE), Arad was a large, fortified and prosperous city. It served as the capital of the important Canaanite kingdom, which ruled over a large part of the northern Negev. The growth of Arad was part of the rapid urbanization of the Land of Israel during the 3rd millennium BCE. Technological development, such as the use of metal for plowing, the domestication of animals and the planting of fruit trees, created conditions for the establishment of large cities, even in outlying areas such as Arad.
The climate in this region is hot and dry and the amount of precipitation is minimal, but the prosperity of a large Canaanite city must have depended on an established agriculture. In the view of experts, the Negev enjoyed in the past twice the amount of rain that falls today, thus making intensive agriculture possible. The Canaanite inhabitants of Arad grew wheat, barley and beans in the valley, and constructed earth dams in the wadis (dry river beds) to increase the amount of water for the orchards, mainly olive groves. Bones of goats, sheep and cattle, found in the ruins of the city's houses, attest to another element in the inhabitants' diet. The city was located at the crossroads of two main trade routes - the one southward from the Judean Hills to the Negev and Edom, and the other westward from the shores of the Dead Sea, across the Negev, to the southern coast - which also contributed to the prosperity of ancient Arad.
Canaanite Arad developed close trade relations with Egypt, evidence of which are the numerous vessels made in Egypt, and a fragment of a ceramic storage jar bearing the name of Narmer, King of Egypt, found at Arad. Copper objects from the royal mines in Sinai were acquired by the inhabitants of Arad, and probably paid for with agricultural products, olive oil and livestock. Bitumen originating from the Dead Sea, used for the sealing of sailing vessels as well as storage jars, and possibly also for mummifying, also made its way from the Dead Sea via Arad to Egypt.
Canaanite Arad covered an area of about 25 acres and had an estimated population of 2,500. The city was surrounded by a fortified wall, some 1,200 m. long and 2.4 m. thick, with many semi-circular or rectangular towers projecting from it. Two gates and two posterns have been found thus far in the wall.
The city itself was very carefully planned, with a network of streets. Along the inside of the wall was the main ring road; and from the gates ran cross streets towards the topographical depression at the city's center, which drained rainwater into a large reservoir, thus guaranteeing continued water supply during the long summers. The part of the city which has been excavated, was divided into quarters, each with a specific function: in the western part was the temple complex; in the south the residential areas.