site located in the Jordan Valley (31°80′ N, 35°30′ E; map reference 192 × 142), northwest of the Dead Sea, about 2 km (1 mi.) northwest of the modern oasis of Jericho (Ar., er-Riḥa) and to the east of the mountains of Judah. The Jericho valley was probably first developed in the days of Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 BCE). Jericho itself flourished during the first century BCE as a garden city and royal estate. The Hasmoneans were the first to build aqueducts in the western Jordan Valley, where the availability of water and land, as well as the mild climate, enabled the development of agriculture. Date palm and balsam cultivation, spurred the city's economic growth. It was for these reasons that first the Hasmoneans and later King Herod built winter palaces here.

History of Excavation.

The site was discovered by Edward Robinson in 1838. Charles Warren excavated in 1868 at two of the mounds; A. Nöldeke, Carl Watzinger, and Ernst Sellin conducted excavations in 1909 and 1911. In 1950, a joint expedition of the American Schools of Oriental research and the Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary, directed by James L. Kelso and D. C. Baramki, conducted an extensive excavation at the two mounds, and on the other side of Wadi Qelt. In 1951, James Pritchard directed the excavation on behalf of the American Schools. He discovered buildings on the southern mound and the structure he identified as the “Gymnasium.” During the years 1973–1983 excavations were carried out by the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, under the direction of Ehud Netzer.

Hasmonean Palace Complex.

Built at the outlet of Wadi Qelt, on a hill overlooking the Jericho valley, the Hasmonean palace complex included a 50- × 50-m building surrounded by a moat, recently excavated, on three sides. This building was later covered by an artificial mound constructed by Herod. The palace probably had a central open court. In its southeast part, a hall decorated with stucco and frescoes was found in the excavations. Its walls are preserved to a height of 7 m, indicating that the palace was two stories high. Two small swimming pools were probably surrounded by a peristyle-shaped building also decorated with frescoes and mosaic floors. The drowning of Aristobolos III, as described by Josephus in Antiquities 15.53, may have occurred in one of these pools. The Hasmoneans also erected a splendid building, a pavilion similar to a Doric temple. It may have been destroyed by an earthquake, as only its foundations, columns, and architrave survive. This leisure complex had a magnificent view of the valley and Wadi Qelt. At a later period, it was extended to the south. Two “twin” palace complexes were found by Ehud Netzer, dating to the reign of Queen Alexandra (Shlomzion, 76–67 BCE). Each has a central open court surrounded by rooms, a hall, a bathhouse, and a miqveh (“ritual bath”). The palaces were decorated with frescoes. Each had an adjacent court with a small swimming pool. Other buildings, houses, installations, and miqveh complexes were built around the palaces, perhaps used by priests for purification rites. The Hasmonean palace complex was likely still standing at the outset of Herod's reign. [See Ritual Baths.]

Herodian Winter Palace I (“Gymnasium”).

Winter Palace I, identified by Pritchard as the Gymnasium, was used for residential and ceremonial purposes. It is dated to the early years of Herod's reign, following his defeat of Mattathias Antigonus (c. 35–30 BCE). The Herodian palace, a splendid villa, was built south of Wadi Qelt. It was rectangular in plan, with a central peristyle court, a triclinium, a peristyle hall, a bathhouse, and a pair of pools that may have been ritual baths.

Winter Palace II.

In 31 BCE an earthquake destroyed the Hasmonean palace complex. Herod rebuilt and extended it to include several wings. The south wing, a small building, was erected on an artificial platform above the buried Hasmonean palace. It was probably Herod's private villa. The two pools from the Hasmonean complex were retained and combined into one large swimming pool; another smaller pool was surrounded by gardens, as evidenced by archaeological finds such as flower pots and water installations. Gardens were also planted over the remains of the destroyed Hasmonean twin palaces. The eastern wing of this palace was constructed on two levels. On the upper level a peristyle court was surrounded by rooms on three sides and had a hall decorated with frescoes. The lower level consisted of two swimming pools from the Hasmonean palace inside a peristyle court. Attached to these was a bathhouse. This wing seems to have been devoted to recreation.

Winter Palace III.

Herod built his enlarged palace on both sides of Wadi Qelt. It consisted of a northern wing on the north bank of the wadi, a sunken garden, a large pool, and an artificial mound with a building on the south bank. The north wing contained two triclinia and one large hall with three rows of columns open to the south to Wadi Qelt. Included in the north wing was a five-room bathhouse. This wing also possessed two peristyle courts, the western one of which had a wide semicircular apse. Several other rooms and an entrance were included in the north wing, which probably was used for leisure activities. The sunken garden had an impressive facade with a semicircular structure at its center. On both sides of this structure were twenty-four rows of niches. Two colonnades were located at either end. The orientation of the large pool west of the sunken garden differed from that of all the other structures, probably because it is parallel to the natural slope. It was used for swimming and water games. The south mound had a rectangular interior and round exterior. A bridge connected the mound with the garden.

Hippodrome Complex.

The hippodrome and theater complex near Jericho was unique in the Greco-Roman world. It was uncovered at Tel el-Samarat, 600 m south of ancient Jericho. The hippodrome's rectangular course is evident, but no trace remains of its spina. The spectators presumably sat in the theaterlike structure at the northern end of the course. This structure has survived nearly intact, lacking only its benches, steps, and passages. It is built on an artificial platform. Its excavator, Ehud Netzer (1980), asserts that this hippodrome complex was used for Olympic games that could be viewed from the theaterlike structure. A building is attached to the rear of the theater, interpreted by Netzer (1992) as a guesthouse or a gymnasium.


The cemetery at Jericho in the Second Temple period was located outside the town, on the hills flanking the Jordan Valley. A large necropolis, with approximately fifty tombs, containing both primary burials in wooden coffins and secondary collected bone burials in ossuaries, was excavated by Rachel Hachlili on behalf of the Israel Department of Antiquities; approximately seventy-five robbed tombs were surveyed. The Jericho cemetery consists of loculi tombs only, which are hewn into the hillsides, each loculus serving as a family tomb but with provision for individual burials.

Burial Types.

Two distinctly different types of loculi tomb burials, primary and secondary, were discovered during the excavations in the Jericho cemetery. They can be classified typologically, chronologically, and stratigraphically into primary burials in wooden coffins (type 1) and secondary burials of collected bones that were either placed in individual ossuaries (type 2a) or piled in heaps (type 2b).

Type 1.

Primary burial in wooden coffins is the earliest type of burial in the Jericho cemetery. The coffins were placed in the rock-cut loculi tombs, each loculus usually holding one wooden coffin. The deceased were evidently brought to the cemetery inside their coffins. The coffin, once inside the tomb, its lid securely in place, was deposited in the loculus; only when all the loculi were filled would additional coffins be placed on the benches or in the pit.

Coffins took the form of a wood chest (several kinds of wood were used) with a post at each corner and a gabled roof. They were constructed by means of mortising. One well-preserved example has a hinged lid. Iron nails and knobs found with the coffins were probably used for decoration or structural support. The coffins were decorated with painted red and black geometric patterns and designs.

Manner of burial.

All the bodies were extended, face upward, in the coffin, usually with the head to one side and the hands close to the side of the body. Most of the coffins contained one individual. There are, however, several instances in which one or two bodies were added to a coffin that already contained an individual.

The orientation of the bodies in the kokh and tomb does not seem to be significant, as the heads are pointed in various directions. The discovery of several coins inside skulls may indicate that coins were traditionally placed on the mouth of the deceased. It should be noted that the wooden coffins in Jericho were used for primary burials only and never as containers for secondary burials.

Grave goods.

In most of the coffin tombs, grave goods consisting of both personal possessions and objects of daily use were found with the deceased. The articles were usually placed near the head or the feet and were found mostly with women and children.

Type 2.

Secondary burial in ossuaries was initially practiced only in Jerusalem but later spread to other parts of Palestine. It is clear from the finds and stratigraphy of the ossuary burials at Jericho that they postdate coffin burials. Ossuaries were hewn from one large block of limestone, usually in the shape of a small rectangular box resting on four low legs. A stone lid—flat, slightly curved, or gabled—was placed on top. The ossuaries were often decorated and many had inscriptions recording names and family relations (Hachlili, 1978, 1979b). [See Ossuary.]

Manner of burial.

The ossuaries were placed in the loculi or on the benches. Often, two ossuaries would be stacked one above the other or placed next to each other. The bones were placed inside the ossuary in a traditional order. Usually, the bones of a single individual were placed in the ossuary, but there are several examples of more than one individual interred.

Grave goods.

No personal objects were found inside the ossuaries. However, objects identical to those used in daily life were found in the Jericho ossuary burials: unguentaria and other glass vessels, bowls, and “Herodian” lamps and cooking pots dated to the first century CE. They were usually placed close to the ossuaries or in the pit. [See Grave Goods.]

Burial Dating.

The dates for the appearance of these burial customs are still the subject of debate. Nevertheless, the Jericho cemetery can provide a chronology for the two types of burials: primary burials in coffins can be dated from the mid- first century BCE to about 10 CE; secondary burials in ossuaries followed immediately, and are dated to about 10–68 CE. These dates are based on the coins found in the tombs, the ossuary inscriptions of Agrippina and others, the comparative stratigraphy of the tombs, as well as the pottery. L. Y. Rahmani (1986) dates the practice of secondary burials in ossuaries in Jerusalem to 30/20 BCE–70 CE, a practice that continued sporadically until about 135 CE or until the third century.

[See also Baths; Burial Techniques; and Hasmoneans. For the site in earlier periods, see Jericho.]


  • Hachlili, Rachel. “A Jerusalem Family in Jericho.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 230 (1978): 45–56.
  • Hachlili, Rachel. “c̊ient Burial Customs Preserved in Jericho Hills.” Biblical Archaeology Review 5 (1979a): 28–35.
  • Hachlili, Rachel. “The Goliath Family in Jericho: Funerary Inscriptions from a First Century A.D. Jewish Monumental Tomb.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 235 (1979b): 31–66.
  • Hachlili, Rachel, and Patricia Smith. “The Genealogy of the Goliath Family.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 235 (1979c): 67–70.
  • Hachlili, Rachel. “A Second Temple Period Jewish Necropolis in Jericho.” Biblical Archaeologist 42 (1980): 235–240.
  • Hachlili, Rachel. “The Nefes: The Jericho Column-Pyramid.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 113 (1981): 33–38.
  • Hachlili, Rachel, and Ann Killebrew. “Jewish Funerary Customs during the Second Temple Period, in the Light of the Excavations at the Jericho Necropolis.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 115 (1983): 109–132.
  • Hachlili, Rachel, and Ann Killibrew. “The Saga of the Goliath Family as Revealed in Their Newly Discovered 2,000-Year-Old Tomb.” Biblical Archaeology Review 9 (1983): 44–53.
  • Hachlili, Rachel, and Ann Killibrew. “Was the Coin-on-Eye Custom a Jewish Burial Practice in the Second Temple Period?” Biblical Archaeologist 46 (1983): 147–153.
  • Hachlili, Rachel. “Jewish Funerary Wall-Painting of the First Century A.D.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 117 (1985): 112–127.
  • Hachlili, Rachel. “Jericho: The Second Temple Period Jewish Cemetery at Jericho.” In The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 2, pp. 693–695. Jerusalem and New York, 1993.
  • Kelso, James L., and D. C. Baramki. Excavations at New Testament Jericho and Khirbet en-Nitla. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 29–30. New Haven, 1955.
  • Netzer, Ehud. “The Hasmonean and Herodian Winter Palaces at Jericho.” Israel Exploration Journal 25 (1975): 89–100.
  • Netzer, Ehud. “The Winter Palaces of the Judean Kings at Jericho at the End of the Second Temple Period.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 228 (1977): 1–13.
  • Netzer, Ehud. “The Hippodrome That Herod Built at Jericho” (in Hebrew). Qadmoniot 13 (1980): 104–107.
  • Netzer, Ehud. “The Winter Palaces and the King's Estate in Jericho” (in Hebrew). Jericho (Kardom Series) 28–30 (1983): 95–112.
  • Netzer, Ehud. “Jericho, Tulul Abu el-'Alaiq.” In The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 2, pp. 682–692. Jerusalem and New York, 1993.
  • Pritchard, James B. The Excavation at Herodian Jericho, 1951. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 32–33. New Haven, 1958.
  • Rahmani, L. Y. “Ancient Jerusalem's Funerary Customs and Tombs.” Biblical Archaeologist 44 (1981): 171–177, 229–235; 45 (1982): 43–53, 109–119.
  • Rahmani, L. Y. “Some Remarks on R. Hachlili and A. Killibrew's ‘Jewish Funerary Customs.’” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 118 (1986): 96–100.

Rachel Hachlili