Student Reader


Jericho (Tell es-Sultan) is a Levantine site given great Biblical weight as the first site conquered by the Israelites.

It has a Pre-Pottery Neolithic fortification, suggesting the presence of chiefdoms in this era. Also, it has a remarkable Middle Bronze Age wall that is five meters thick.

Anatolian obsidian was found at Jericho, indicating some form of trade.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic A

A series of walls, or one wall reinforced repeatedly, was found with a massive tower just within the wall's boundary. Both wall and tower were abandoned in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A.

The first wall to be erected had a breadth of 1.8m at its base and 1.6 m at the top and was preserved to a height of 3.65 m. It was built of readily-available field stones. The wall was repeatedly repaired and reinforced repeatedly, reaching a width of 3.5 m in its final stage. Within the wall was a tower 8.2 m high with a diameter of 9 m at the base and 7 m at the top also built of field stones and containing no rooms and presumably solid. This tower was also repaired during the PPNA, and an encasing wall was added linking it to the wall. Inside the tower was a staircase with 20 steps.

The lower entrance faced the settlement. The roof was somewhat eroded after the PPNA. The accumulation of debris, collapse and new structures reached the top of the tower before the end of the PPNA. After it fell out of use, skeletons were laid in the staircase and the entrance was altered to allow building of a nearby structure. The same fate overtook the wall.

Observing other Arab villages with 150-400 persons per hectare, Jericho's 2.5 hectare footprint means it likely had a population of 375-1,000.

This sort of wall could have been built in only 21 workdays by 75 laborers, though, so the importance of community is not an overwhelming factor. The wall was likely built to prevent the settlement from being subermged by water and mud, as the tower is inside the boundary (very unique) and no fortifications against human enemies have been found at other sites until after the following period.

Also, PPNA inhabitants of Jericho relied on the hunt for animal fats and protein (rather than being a pastoral society) so thus likely were not faced with large groups of enemies. The tower likely served some religious function, as water was nearby (no need for water storage) and botanical studies have not found grain (not used as a silo).

Jericho burials

Bodies cleared at Jericho (262 skeletons) and Netiv Ha-Gdud (25 skeletons) were buried in a flexed or semiflexed position, continuing the ancient traditions of Natufian sites. An innovation, which began in the Late Natufian, was the removal of the skull from some adults buried at the site. Numerous skulls have been found in secondary burials in structures or pits, although they were not plastered as in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A. Grave goods were found rarely, and only as a few bone needles and points. Traces of matting in primary and scondary burials were found at Jericho. Burials were often found under floors, although it is unclear if this is intentional or if bodies were buried between houses and then became intramural as new houses were built and older ones were torn down.

Plastered skulls

Kathleen Kenyon's 1952-1958 excavations found numerous plastered skulls beneath the floors of houses.

In each case the lower the jaw had been removed and the face modeled in lime plaster. Shells were placed in eye sockets and on some skulls red and black paint was used to represent facial features, hair and even mustaches. Also recovered were skeletons whose skulls had been removed. The image at right is a plastered skull from Jericho (Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, ~7200 BC) now at the British Museum, WA 127414. Image © LMC

plastered skull from jericho now at british museum

Similar plastered skulls have been found throughout the Levant.

Plastered skulls have been found at sites including 'Ain Ghazal in Jordan and Tell Ramad in Syria. This may be evidence for widespread ancestor worship.