Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Neolithic Jericho

Jericho held the title of the longest inhabited settlement in history. It turned into a legend after its walls came tumbling down through the sounds of trumpets of Joshua and the Israelites. Since then it became a place of pilgrimage and later on of further study for development of humanity during the Neolithic Age.

Jericho, 1931

Excavation History

Ancient and pre-historic Jericho has been also known as Tell es-Sultan located north of the Dead Sea and west of the Jordan River. The site had been the home of a natural spring called as Elisha’s fountain for Christian pilgrims (example of the a Christian pilgrim account regarding Jericho came from the Pilgrim of Bordeaux). The Arabs called also the place ariha, eriha, or riha which meant fragrant for the smell of the air of the area.

Jericho became the subject of one of the most well-known events in the Bible, when Joshua and Israelites arrived in Canaan. It turned belligerent towards the fleeing former slaves from Egypt and during the legendary siege, the Israelites walk around its walls for days before the sound of trumpets echoed and defenses went tumbling down.

Nonetheless, the history of Jericho went further before the events of the Exodus. It traced its roots as far back as a Neolithic pre-pottery age settlement in 9,000 BCE. This interested many scholars who used Jericho as a case study in analyzing the development of mankind, in particular the development of agriculture, sedentary culture, and pottery.

In the 19th century, archaeologist found new found interest towards Jericho. The foundation of the Palestine Exploration Fund allowed extensive excavation and study of various sites in the Levant. Between 1868 and 1869, Jericho became a subject of an archaeological excavation of Captain Charles Warren; but, the expedition failed to result into major findings. The limelight only returned to the old city when in 1894 Frederick J. Bliss rediscovered the walls of Jericho he claimed dated back during Joshua’s invasion.

Organized and scientific excavation of the site did not began until the 20th century. Between 1907 and 1909, German archaeologist Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger made an archaeological excavation of the site with support from Deutsche Palastina Verein. They made detailed reports of their findings and identified the various architectural divisions and periods of the site. Further excavations also made in the 1930’s under J. Garstang. In the 1950’s archaeologist found the traces of the city’s oldest walls. In the same decade, in 1952 specifically, the archaeological team of Kathleen Kenyon supported by the University College of London, the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, and the Palestine Exploration Fund unearthed 7 skulls including the famous Jericho Skull that gave a glimpse of old Jericho’s burial practices.

History and Life during Neolithic Jericho

Jericho’s history has been divided into different periods. During the Neolithic age, Jericho had several with its Pre-pottery period divided into A and B followed by a period with existing pottery then proceeding to the metal ages. This history of thousands of years only formed a chapter in the city’s epic long history.

Around 9,000 BCE, the site of Jericho began to host a settlement of Mesolithic hunters. Between 8,500 and 7,000 BCE, Jericho’s Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period ran, where it grew to a population of about 2,000 to 3,000 individuals. It then witnessed the development of agriculture centered on wheat and barley. The city’s inhabitants stayed in circular houses made of sun-dried mud brick walls topped with dome roofs. They weaved their own clothes, used obsidian tools, and utilized stones to make containers as pottery remained absent (as suggested by the period’s name). Moreover, they traded with people from neighboring settlements reaching as far as Anatolia. They also seemed to be well-organize enough to undertake public works such as irrigation and construction of Jericho’s earliest stone walls and towers. Their towers measured around 8 meters high and its walls complemented by a ditch in front. Debate on the purpose of the wall continued between those arguing the walls as a defense against raiders and those who conjectured that it meant as a defense against wild animals.  

The Pre-Pottery Neolithic B ran its course from 7,000 to 5,200 BCE. From 7,000 to 6,000 BCE a wave of migrants from northern Syria arrived in Jericho who then assimilated before finally dominated the site. However, from 6,000 to 5,000 BCE, Jericho appeared to have little to no evidence of habitations, thus giving the assumption that the site might have been abandoned for quite some time. Only after 5,000 BCE that the site became once again occupied and marked by the development of pottery.

Pre-pottery Neolithic B had been characterized by further development of its society. They lived in standardized rectangular houses with walls decorated with “herringbone thumb impressions” in the mud mortar. They also began to develop their own religion with several structures seemed to have served as a place of worship. The period also saw the burial practice of plastering human skulls which resulted to the renowned Jericho Skull. Shells covered the eyes while the whole skull plastered. It also shows signs that it also once had hair and skin details. As to the purpose of the skull, scholars suggested that it might have been worshiped – an early form of ancestral worship.

Jericho continued to be inhabited and continued to flourish through the metal ages. During this time, it witnessed the arrival of the Israelites that immortalized the city in mankind’s history.

Summing Up

Jericho took the title of the oldest inhabited site in history. From a biblical city, research and excavation gave the site a deeper meaning and relevance. Its history narrates the development of humanity from mere hunter-gatherers to agriculturalist and grew to become major cities of great importance.

See also:

“Ancient Jericho: Tell es-Sultan.” UNESCO. Accessed on June 7, 2020.

German, Senta. “Jericho.” Smarthistory. Accessed on June 7, 2020.
Kenyon, Kathleen Mary. “Jericho.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on June 7, 2020. URL:

Romey, Kristin. “The Jericho Skull.” National Geographic. Accessed on June 7, 2020. URL:

Coogan, Michael. The Oxford History of the Biblical World. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Kleiner, Fred. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: A Global History. Boston: Massachusetts: Wadsworth, 2011.

Wagemakers, Bart (ed.). Archaeology in the ‘Land of Tells and Ruins.’ Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2014. 

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