(31°80′ N, 35°30′ E; map reference 192 × 142), site located in the Jordan Valley, 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 Judea (Judah). Geographically, the first settlement occurred on the fertile plain of the Great African Rift Valley, some 250 m (825 ft.) below sea level, through which the Jordan River descends into the Dead Sea.
The first references to Jericho in the Hebrew Bible are in the books of Numbers (22:1, 26:3), where the encampment of Israel is described across the river from the town; of Deuteronomy (34:1, 3), where the site is named; and of Joshua (2:1–3, 5:13–6:26), where it is recorded that spies were sent to examine the city and that the town was surrounded and conquered. The modern name of the mound, Tell es-Sultan, is the medieval name given to the site because it is located at the spring of ῾Ain es-Sultan (“Elisha's fountain”). During the period of the Judges, when the site was purportedly occupied by Eglon of Moab, the town was also known as the “city of palm trees” (Jgs. 3:13).
Because of its biblical connections, the site of Jericho inspired considerable attention for nearly fifteen hundred years before the advent of modern archaeological research. Many pilgrims and travelers visited the area during the first millennium CE, the first written account, in 333 CE, being that of the Pilgrim of Bordeau (described in Jerusalem Pilgrimage, 1099–1185, by John Wilkinson, with Joyce Hill and W. F. Ryan, London, 1988, p. 4). It was not until 1868, however, that the first archaeological investigation of the mound was undertaken by Charles Warren, on behalf of the British Palestine Exploration Fund. Warren excavated east-west trenches on the mound and sank 2.4 sq. m shafts 6.1 m into the earth (Warren, 1869, pp. 14–16). Although Warren dug through the EB town wall and found artifacts, he did not consider that the excavated material remains (pottery and stone mortars) were very important occupational finds for dating successive historical periods. Warren's conclusion regarding Jericho and other similar sites was: “The fact that in the Jordan valley these mounds generally stand at the mouths of the great wadies, is rather in favour of their having been the sites of ancient guard-houses or watch-towers” (Warren, 1869, p. 210).
The site was more seriously investigated when Claude R. Conder and H. H. Kitchener made a topographical survey of Jericho and its surroundings, published in The Survey of Western Palestine, vol. 3 (London, 1883). The second archaeological expedition to the site was conducted by an Austro-German team directed by Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger between 1907 and 1909 and in 1911, under the sponsorship of the German Oriental Society (Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft); the results appeared in Jericho: Die Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen (Leipzig, 1913). The large portion of the mound excavated revealed much of the Middle Bronze Age glacis, which originally surrounded the town, as well as portion of the EB town walls. Houses belonging to the Israelite occupation of the town (eleventh-early sixth centuries BCE) were discovered on the southeast side of the mound. Controversy over the dating and capture of Jericho by Joshua has centered around two main schools of thought. The first theory conforms essentially to the biblical view that the Israelite occupation occurred with military attacks on Canaanite cities (a view primarily maintained by William Foxwell Albright, G. Ernest Wright, and John Bright). The second theory is that the conquest was a gradual and peaceful assimilation process that occurred in about 1200 BCE, at the beginning of the Iron Age (a view held by Albrecht Alt and Martin Noth and more recently discussed by Manfred Weippert , and Israel Finkelstein ).
In an effort to obtain further archaeological evidence concerning this question, excavations were conducted at Jericho from 1930 to 1936 by John Garstang. He led the Marston-Melchett Expedition on behalf of the University of Liverpool and the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. Garstang excavated many areas on the mound and also located a number of MB and LB tombs in the necropolis associated with the site (Garstang, 1932, pp. 18–22, 41–54; 1933, pp. 4–42; Bienkowski, 1986, pp. 32–102). Garstang originally claimed that the Israelites had indeed destroyed Jericho on the evidence of fallen walls he dated to the end of the Late Bronze Age, but he later revised their destruction to a much earlier period. Although the Joshua controversy was not solved, Garstang did reveal the very early Mesolithic and Neolithic stages of occupation on the site.
In an effort to resolve the Joshua problem and to clarify the results of Garstang's excavations, Kathleen M. Kenyon directed the most recent archaeological work at Jericho (1952–1958), sponsored by the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, the Palestine Exploration Fund, and the British Academy in collaboration with the American School of Oriental Research (now Albright Institute) in Jerusalem and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto (Kenyon, 1957, 1960, 1965, 1981; Kenyon and Holland, 1982, 1983). The Kenyon expedition excavated a large number of tombs in the necropolis dating from the Proto-Urban period (c. 3400–3100 BCE) to the Roman period. Although much of the ancient mound had already been dug by the previous two expeditions, Kenyon was able to plot three main trenches on the north (trench II), west (trench I), and south (trench III) slopes of the tell in order to obtain comparative stratigraphical cross-sections of the main fortification systems of different historical periods. She also excavated a number of large squares inside the walls of the town in order to crosscheck the results of the former excavations as well as to expose larger areas of the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods of occupation; these squares are lettered and numbered A I–II (grid E4–5, on the highest part of the tell, 24 m high), D I, D II (grid H4–5, east end of trench I), E I–V (grid E–F6–7, northeast side of the tell), F I (grid G4–5, northeast end of trench I), H I–VI (grid H6–7, east side of the mound above the spring), L I (grid G5–6, center of the mound), and M I (grid F–G5, overlapping the EB town wall on the northwestern side of the mound).
Archaeological investigations of the site have shown that it is one of the earliest settled communities in the world. During the Mesolithic period (or Epipaleolithic, beginning c. 12,000 BCE), local hunters camped around the natural spring and constructed an oblong platform of clay directly on bedrock in square E I (Kenyon, 1981, pl. 144b). Kenyon indentified a group of three stone sockets associated with the platform as probable supports for “totem poles” used in a shrine or sanctuary, but Peter Dorrell (Kenyon and Holland, 1983, p. 489) later reclassified these stones as limestone mortars. Many Natufian flint and bone tools, including a small bone harpoon, were found in this area.
The next stage of growth at Jericho occurred during the Epipaleolithic/Neolithic 1 period (c. 8700–8500 BCE). Rudimentary clay “humplike” (or “hog-backed”) bricks belonging to the bases of walls of shelters, with probable branch and skin superstructures, were found in squares D–F and M I (Kenyon, 1981, pls. 129, 295). The most important aspect of the flint industry was the occurrence of palegray obsidian tools. The obsidian for making the tools came from Çiftlik in eastern Turkey, thereby confirming that the inhabitants of Jericho had already evolved extensive trade relations, making it a major center of evolving civilization.
Although there was a gap in occupation between the Epipaleolithic/Neolithic 1 period and the next stage of development, the Neolithic 1 occupation (c. 8500 BCE), great advances had been made in architecture and town planning. The development of one-room, domed, round houses constructed with plano-convex mud bricks implies a permanent settlement and the beginning of a true town. For reasons not yet ascertained, the inhabitants built a major stone wall around the town, as well as a stone tower (diameter, 8.5 m; height, 7.75 m) against the inner side of the town wall in trench I (Kenyon, 1981, pls. 4, 6). The excavator suggested that these constructions were either for defense or protection from wild animals, but Ofer Bar-Yosef (1986, pp. 159–161) has hypothesized that the wall may have been necessary to keep the rising accumulation of ground debris out of the town. The tower may also have been used for some religious purpose. The presence of bone tools such as pins, awls, and a shuttle attest to both a skin-working industry and weaving (see figure 1).
The succeeding Neolithic 2 period (c. 7000 BCE) is architecturally notable in that there was a complete change in house construction from simple round rooms to rectangular rooms. Seventeen building levels were found that revealed that the houses were built around a central courtyard containing fireplaces. Impressions left in the clay floors gave evidence of different patterns of rush-made mats (Crowfoot in Kenyon and Holland, 1982, pp. 546–550, pls. 4–5). One very large room (about 6 m × 6 m) stands out because it contained a plaster-lined basin and a series of pits, as well as adjoining semicircular domed enclosures on its east and west sides (Kenyon, 1981, pls. 46b, 221). Because of its unique plan, Kenyon suggested that it probably served as a cult center or temple. However, the presence of bone tools could imply that it was a skin-working “factory,” with the domed enclosures used as drying kilns. Other finds certainly suggest some form of cult practice or ancestor worship. A group of human skulls was plastered and painted to represent human faces, possibly to resemble the actual features of the deceased (Kenyon, 1981, pls. 50–59). Dated to the end of this period were two clay figures stylized to represent human figures; one had shells inlaid as eyes and painted features (Garstang, 1935, pl. 53) (see figure 2).
It is known that Jericho was abandoned at the end of Neolithic 2 because there were considerable layers of eroded material over the occupation remains of that period. The next sequence of settlements is known as the Pottery Neolithic A and B period, or Neolithic 3–4, because the newcomers to the site brought the art of pottery making with them. Two distinct styles of pottery indicate that there were two separate groups of settlers (Kenyon and Holland, 1982, figs. 1–19, 21–33 for the A and B period pottery types). While the Pottery Neolithic A people lived only in pit dwellings cut into the debris of the previous occupation, the arrival of the B people introduced the construction of hut dwellings and, later, of freestanding houses with stone foundations and handmade mud-brick superstructures. Crowfoot Payne has identified the new types of flint tools used as Yarmukian (Kenyon and Holland, 1983, pp. 706–716, figs. 332–341). An analysis of the plant remains from this period led Maria Hopf (Kenyon and Holland, 1983, p. 578) to conclude that the Pottery Neolithic, or Neolithic 3–4, people were primarily herdsmen and hunters.
Jericho was again abandoned for a considerable period of time at the end of the Pottery Neolithic period. The next occupation of the site, in Kenyon's terminology, is known as the Proto-Urban period (c. 3400–3100 BCE=EB I elsewhere), which she subdivided into periods A and B on the basis of different pottery styles found in the tombs of the necropolis belonging to this stage of occupation. Garstang's excavations in area E revealed the best information concerning the religious customs and architecture of this period; he found a broadroom building, with an entrance facing east, that he labeled shrine 420 (Garstang, 1936, pp. 73–74, pl. 41a). Stone objects associated with the shrine included a small libation altar and an oval-shaped smoothed stone Garstang thought could have been a prototype of the maṣṣēbâ.
The next occupation at Jericho is the Early Bronze Age (Kenyon's EB I–III, c. 3050–2300 BCE=EB II–III elsewhere), which gradually evolved out of the preceding Proto-Urban period. Defense of the town seems to have been uppermost in the thoughts of its EB occupants, as Kenyon found remains of two parallel town walls constructed of mold-made, unbaked rectangular mud bricks. During the later stages of the walls, the town was also protected by an external ditch. Architecturally, the earliest houses are either oblong with a curved end, or circular; later, rectangular designs were employed, as well as mud-brick built silos for storing grain. This was the first period at Jericho in which artificial irrigation was employed to produce food for self-sufficiency: large quantities of carbonized naked hexaploid bread-wheat remains were found (Hopf in Kenyon and Holland, 1983, p. 579). Multiple burials in the rock-cut tombs in the necropolis contained pottery vessels and personal ornamentation, attesting to some belief in an afterlife. International trade was thriving, as both pottery and objects were imported from eastern Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. The prosperity of this period ceased when the town was violently destroyed, probably as a result of a general collapse of the economy caused by deforestation of the region—which in turn made the town vulnerable to invasion as well as disease. The archaeological evidence shows that the town was then unoccupied for about two hundred years.
The town was partially reoccupied during Kenyon's Intermediate Early Bronze–Middle Bronze Age (c. 2100–1950 BCE) by a group of seminomadic newcomers who may be identified with the “Amorites” (other scholars identify this period at other sites as EB IIIB or EB IV, c. 2300–1950 BCE). The new pottery is related to types also found in north Syria (Kenyon, 1981, fig. 12). A new type of tomb plan was introduced that had a vertical shaft leading into rock-cut chambers below. Kenyon postulated that the newcomers were organized into tribal groups because seven different burial customs could be observed in the tombs. The tomb types are dagger, pottery, dagger/pottery, outsize, bead, composite, and multiple burial (Kenyon, 1960, 1965).
Kenyon divided the following MB period at Jericho into two major stages: MB I (1950–1850 BCE) and MB II (1800–1550 BCE). The town was very heavily fortified by three successive plastered ramparts placed against the steeply sloping sides of the mound, which had been created by previous occupation debris. Originally, the rampart was most likely crowned with a freestanding mud-brick defensive wall, but erosion has removed all traces of this. The houses Garstang and Kenyon excavated in grids H–K6 show good town planning in that the dwellings are well aligned with two streets and drains (Garstang, 1934, pp. 118–130, pls. xiii–xvi; Kenyon, 1981, pl. 336a). The objects of everyday use, as well as the burial customs, of the MB inhabitants are extremely well preserved because of the excellent state of preservation of the tombs in the necropolis (Garstang, 1932, pp. 41–54; 1933, pp. 3–37; Kenyon, 1960, pp. 263–515; 1965, pp. 167–478). This period in the history of Jericho was brought to a violent end by a major conflagration that may have been caused by an earthquake or by the Egyptians.
The Late Bronze Age period at Jericho (c. 1400–1325 BCE) is perhaps the most controversial with regard to its fortification system and its historical connections with the biblical Joshua story (the entry and settlement of the Israelites into Canaan). Many scholars (cf. Finkelstein, 1988) believe that the settlement was a peaceful and gradual infiltration of an already-established local population. Kenyon concluded, with reference to the military conquest theory and the LB walls, that there was no archaeological data to support the thesis that the town had been surrounded by a wall at the end of LB I (c. 1400 BCE; for recent arguments against this view, see Bryant G. Wood, 1990, and the rebuttal by Piotr Bienkowski, 1990). Also, Kenyon found very few remains on the mound that can be dated to this period in the site's history (see Kenyon, 1981, p. 371, fig. 14:6, pl. 199a, b; cf. Garstang, 1934, pp. 105–108, pl. xii). However, evidence from the necropolis, tombs 4 and 5, does indicate burials during this period (Bienkowski, 1986, pp. 71, 90, 102).
The reoccupation of Jericho does not occur until the Iron Age (c. 1200–587 BCE), in about the eleventh century. Pottery evidence from a tenth-century tomb, A 85 (Tushingham in Kenyon, 1965, p. 487, fig. 253), accords well with the biblical account in 1 Kings 16:34 that Jericho was reoccupied and fortified by Hiel the Bethelite during the time of Ahab. The town's main Iron Age occupation did not occur until the seventh century BCE, however. Extensive occupational remains were found by all three expeditions (see especially Franken, 1974, and Weippert and Weippert, 1976). The presence of a royal stamped jar handle impressed with a two-winged royal stamp implies that Jericho was administered by Judah at this time (Bartlett in Kenyon and Holland, 1982, p. 537, fig. 220:1, pl. 3a). The pottery evidence also suggests that the town remained occupied until the Babylonian Exile in 587 BCE.
As a result of erosion there is no evidence of any building remains on the ancient mound after the end of the Iron Age, if any such occupation occurred. Occupation from the Persian through the Byzantine periods was centered on two nearby mounds known as Tulul Abu el-῾Alayiq. The town's position on the eastern flank of Judea probably continued to make it strategically important militarily. As a natural oasis it was also of great economic value to a succession of conquerers by providing them with food and medicinal plants. A bronze barbed arrowhead attests to at least the presence of Persian warriors or their subjugates (Kenyon and Holland, 1982, p. 569, fig. 229:18); a Rhodian stamped handle implies active trade during the Hellenistic period (Bartlett in Kenyon and Holland, 1982, p. 542, fig. 220:6); and Roman tombs and graves indicate the presence of Roman legionnaires either encamped on or near the ancient town.
[See also American Schools of Oriental Research; British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem; Herodian Jericho; and the biographies of Conder, Garstang, Kenyon, Kitchener, Sellin, Warren, and Watzinger.]
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- Bienkowski, Piotr. Jericho in the Late Bronze Age. Warminster, 1986.
- Bienkowski, Piotr. “Jericho Was Destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age, Not the Late Bronze Age.” Biblical Archaeology Review 16.5 (1990): 45–46, 69. Recent archaeological treatments of Jericho and the “Joshua problem.”
- Finkelstein, Israel. The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement. Jerusalem, 1988.
- Franken, Hendrichs J. In Search of the Jericho Potters: Ceramics from the Iron Age and from the Neolithicum. Amsterdam, 1974.
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- Kenyon, Kathleen M. Excavations at Jericho, vol. 3, The Architecture and Stratigraphy of the Tell. 2 vols. Edited by Thomas A. Holland. London, 1981.
- Kenyon, Kathleen M., and Thomas A. Holland. Excavations at Jericho, vol. 4, The Pottery Type Series and Other Finds. London, 1982.
- Kenyon, Kathleen M., and Thomas A. Holland. Excavations at Jericho, vol. 5, The Pottery Phases of the Tell and Other Finds. London, 1983.
- Warren, Charles. “Note on the Mounds at Jericho.” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement 1 (1869): 209–210.
- Weippert, Helga, and Manfred Weippert. “Jericho in der Eisenzeit.” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 92 (1976): 105–148.
- Weippert, Manfred. The Settlement of the Israelite Tribes in Palestine: A Critical Survey of the Recent Scholarly Debate. London, 1971. .
- Wood, Bryant G. “Dating Jericho's Destruction: Bienkowski Is Wrong on All Counts.” Biblical Archaeology Review 16.5 (1990): 45, 47–49, 68–69.
Thomas A. Holland