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Site Report: Jericho

by Daniel Moorhead and Sarah Henkel

Basic Geographic Information
Jericho is located northwest of the Dead Sea, in the Jordan valley. The site (whose mound is known as Tell es-Sultan in Arabic) is located on a fertile plain that is irrigated by the spring of ‘Ain es-Sultan (Elisha’s Fountain) and the spring of ‘Ain Duq. Lying at 825 ft. below sea level, Jericho is located at the lowest spot in the world. The Jericho of the Old Testament is actually located two kilometers northwest of the modern oasis of Jericho, known as er-Riha. Irrigation systems from the various springs created an area capable of agricultural cultivation. However the water supply was vulnerable to enemy attacks on the irrigation systems and the shifting earth of the Jordan valley that at times cut off access to the springs. The unreliability of access to water is one explanation for the cycles of abandonment and reoccupation evidenced in archaeological evidence from Jericho. Jericho’s position on the east-west travel routes made it especially vulnerable to invasions.

Biblical Information
In the book of Joshua, Jericho was the first city that the Hebrews conquered when they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. Joshua first sent two spies to assess the city before embarking on the famous “walls fall down” conquest. In the tribal allotments of Joshua 16 and 18, the city was given to Benjamin, while in Judges 3, Jericho is an outpost of Eglon of Moan at which time Jericho was known as “the city of palm trees” (Judges 3:13). During the days of Elijah and Elisha, a school of prophets existed there (as found in 2 Kings 2). When Zedekiah escaped Jerusalem during the Babylonian conquest, he was captured near Jericho. Later references to Jericho in the apocryphal writings and the New Testament refer to the area of Jericho related to the Hasmonean/Herodian palace complex located to the southwest.

Archaeological Information/Overview
Jericho’s biblical significance led to its popularity as a site for archaeological excavations. The first archaeological dig was led in 1868 by Charles Warren working in cooperation with the British Palestine Exploration Fund. Warren concluded that the geographical location of the mound at Jericho at the mouth of a wadi suggested it was a site for a watchtower or guardhouse. He did believe material finds – pottery and stone mortars – were of much use in dating the area. Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger carried out the second archaeological excavation in 1907-1909 and 1911 with the support of the German Oriental Society. Their team uncovered town walls from the Early Bronze Age and houses linked to the Israelite occupation of Jericho (11th – early 6th century). The attempts to date the biblical capture of Jericho by Joshua were shaped by two different theories regarding the conquest. Some believed, in keeping with a literal interpretation of the biblical account, that Jericho came under Israelite occupation through violent military attack. Others posited that the occupation of Jericho occurred through the gradual absorption of the Israelite peoples into the area in the early Iron Age. John Garstang’s expedition (1930-1936) under the auspices of the University of Liverpool and the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem held to the first theory of violent conquest based on the evidence of some fallen walls, which he originally dated to the Late Bronze Age though he later assigned them to a significantly earlier time period. Kathleen Kenyon’s expedition in 1952-1958 sponsored by the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem among other institutions sought to clarify Garstang’s findings and the debate of the theories of conquests. Kenyon’s discoveries from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods were significant as was her use of material remains in learning more about the Iron Age. The debate over the theories of conquest continues.

Pre-Iron Age Occupation
The earliest remains of the site have been dated to the Mesolithic period, approximately 9000 B.C.E, including tools and vessels. The evidence led Kenyon, the excavator, to suggest that the site served as a shrine or a sanctuary set up by hunters who were camping around the spring. Proto-Neolithic remains (8700-8500 B.C.E.) were also discovered in the area, including a series of post holes and the bases of walls for shelters. In all likelihood, there was an expansion of the population sometime prior to the dawn of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (stretching from 8500-5200 B.C.E.).

There was an occupational gap between the Proto-Neolithic and the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. During the latter we have discovered fully developed round houses, in contrast to primitive huts found in previous periods. The first stone walls were constructed at this time, likely to serve as defense or protection against wild animals.

Some evidence of possible cultic practices have been found dating to the late Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. Human skulls have been molded over with plaster, with shells inserted to represent eyes and the skulls painted to represent hair and skin. Additionally, a clay stylized human bust that had been part of a life-sized figure was found.

After the destruction of Pre-Pottery Neolithic Jericho, the site lay empty for an unknown period of time. The new settlers possessed the art of pottery making and during the Pottery Neolithic A period (5200-4700 B.C.E.) dwelt in pit houses. In Pottery Neolithic B (4700-4000 B.C.E.), the residents built free-standing houses.

Kenyon suggests that Jericho was abandoned for approximately 300 years, but then was reoccupied for the latter part of the 4th millennia until 1200 B.C.E. during the Early, Middle, and Bronze Age periods. While there were walls in the Early Bronze age period, there does not appear to have been walls during the Late Bronze Age period. It is suggested therefore that Jericho was destroyed in the Late Bronze Age II. There is no archaeological evidence that would decide whether or not this destruction was the one recorded in the biblical account.

Iron Age Occupation
The biblical account in 1 Kings 16:34 posits that Jericho was reoccupied by Hiel the Bethelite during Ahab’s rule in the early 9th century BCE. There is no archaeological evidence for reoccupation as early as the 9th century BCE. Archaeological excavations have found evidence that Jericho was reoccupied in approximately the 7th century BCE. Three of the most extensive excavations at the Jericho site (Warren, Sellin & Watzinger, Kenyon) support theories of a significant reoccupation of Jericho in the 7th century BCE. The discovery of a tripartite building typical of the Iron Age period gives strong evidence for the reoccupation of the Iron Age. Kenyon’s discovery of a jar handle bearing a royal stamp with the word Yehud belongs to the Persian period and suggests that Jericho was under Judean rule during that time. Kenyon’s excavations of pottery date the ending of this period of Jericho’s reoccupation to the Babylonian exile in 587 BCE. The effects of erosion erased any evidence of buildings or occupation of Tell es-Sultan after the Iron Age. Later occupation and development was located in different sites near but not directly at the site of the biblical Jericho.

Post Iron Age Occupation
In the Hasmonean period Jericho’s bounds were greatly expanded from modern Jericho’s size and became the site of Herod’s three winter palaces which were built in that area because of its mild winter climate and access to agricultural land. During the Late Roman and Byzantine periods Jericho was reduced again to the size of modern Jericho.

Meyers, Eric M., Ed. Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East. New York: Oxford, 1997.
Netzer, Ehud. “Jericho.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary Volume 3, 723-739. David Noel Freedman, editor. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Stern, Ephraim, Ed. New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 17, 2011 11:17 pm

    with thanks for your personal tips.

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