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Jerico: City of Pilgrims

The Old Jericho mound (10,000BC), newer parts of the city at left

One of the First

The city of Jerico is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and perhaps the oldest city discovered so far by scientists. First established in 9000BC, it predates the establishment of many civilizations by several millenia, and has been the site of many spiritual pilgrimages throughout history.

The first settlement is often called Ein es Sultan, or Sultanian. A permanent set of structures was built around 9000BC, which appears to antedate major agricultural efforts. Without a domestic agricultural base, the inhabitants built walls 5 feet thick and 17 feet tall, and a large tower 26 feet tall and 13 feet wide, enclosing a population estimated to be around 3000 people. The purpose of the wall is assumed defensive, a common thread seen likely responsible for the initial motivation behind early city building, establishing crucial protection against unfriendly tribes and groups. Other scientists speculate that the walls instead served to stave off flooding.

Biblical Flood Protection

In fact, the height of the walls may have been seen necessary evident by earlier floods, as sudden rises in sea level occurring at the time, around 9000BC, were catastrophically high, reaching far inland. Jerico also exists at an altitude of 820 feet below sea level. The dead sea, may have overflowed its banks during the period, and the people of Jerico saw it necessary to build up the mound the city rested upon, and the high walls to protect it from possible future floods. Jerico has been the center of the earliest Jewish beginnings, and such floods may have fueled the first tales that later formed the story of the Biblical flood of Noah recognized in the Old Testament.

Ein es Sultan Tower

Although the origins of the cities inhabitants remains unknown, it is thought that the Natufian Culture, a epipaleolithic sedentary people that lived along the middle eastern Levant, came to settle in the city as a means to pool vital resources together to survive in the increasingly hostile Younger Dryas period.

Scientists theorize that the culture began to domesticate wild grain seeds as a response to the abrupt loss of resources long relied upon with the onset of the Younger Dyras (wild game), a shift in climate that dropped temperatures globally and increased the aridity of the surrounding region.

Ice Age Beginnings

Within this new climate, large tribes and groups who had enjoyed a time of plenty, suddenly became increasingly competitive with one another, and the walls of Jerico may indeed have been dual in purpose, as protection from the rampant violence in the region and inundation.

From out of this hotbed of competition and hostility, archaeologists think the need for domesticating grain came into play for the first time. It is possible that domestication may have sparked out of earlier shifts in climate however.

The cultivation of grains, in recent years, has been recognized as a less crucial factor in the rise of city centers and larger settlements around the period Jerico appears. For example, sites such as Norte Chico, a dense culture that practiced large scale monument building around 3500BC, relied only on fish and did not raise cereals or other crops for subsistence. Another site, Gobekli Tepe in modern Turkey, also displays the same situation, a monumental civilization that existed 14,000 years ago, yet relied only on hunting and gathering and no agriculture. Scientists have no idea how it was done. In the case of Jerico however, the appearance of such a dense center may be in part due to the proximity of rare local resources.

Rich Local Exotic Resources

Jerico lay near large quantities of salt, an item highly desirable in a number of different facets of ancient life, including the garnishing of foods. The ability to trade well sought after goods, which also included sulfur and pitch at Jerico, probably prompted the formation of an elite who could organize large numbers to build the larger scale of the settlement and its walls and tower.

The popular agricultural theory that scientists have preferred for many years may play a much less significant role in the rise of early urban towns, as sites like Jericho seem to suggest.

It is thought that Jericho relied more extensively on the bounty of the spring nearby. Ain-Alisha, is another common name of the site, meaning "Spring of Alisha", and Madinat an-Nakhil, or the "City of Palms". During the time Jerico rose, c.9000BC, the Spring must have provided plentiful fish, hunting, and wild grains in the vicinity in a time when the surrounding Jordan Valley region provided less and less with the onset of the debilitating Younger Dryas environment.

Rye: The Ideal Cereal for Ice Age Civilizations

If domestication of cereals did occur earlier in the last Ice Age, 11,000 years ago, Rye is the most suitable crop that could be planted and domesticated during the period. The hardiest of all cereals, Rye can survive in relatively both cold and hot, dry extremes more than any other genus.

It is possible that the Rye genus may have been domesticated in many parts of the world before the Younger Dryans period, where Ice Age conditions were ideal near mid-latitude regions. This may attest for the appearance of such a large settlement like Jerico so early in history, and gives proof that the rise of civilization in other parts of the world within the last Ice Age could be possible.

Rise of Agriculture

Due to the appearance of Jerico early within prehistoric times, scientists believe that agriculture actually originated in the Jordan Valley (Middle East Levant), instead of the Tigris and Euphrates Valley or the Nile Valley in Egypt. Whether this is true or not, is not clear.

History of Archaeology

The German-Austrian Mission was led by two archeologists E. Sellin and C. Watzinger who first began excavations at the Jericho site in 1911. British archaeologists later came in, conducting excavations at Tall as-Sultan under the supervision of J. Garstang ( 1930-1936 ) and later, Miss K. Kenyon ( 1952-1961 ). She published a resume of her work in two huge volumes ( 1960-1965 ), considered one of the best resources on the Jericho settlement.

The reconstructed chronology of the city is separated into many phases of development and abandonment.

For many parts throughout the history of the site, the ownership passed between many peoples, and frequently saw invasions by the nomadic Bedouins of the Sinai.

Early Neolithic

Housing standards began to greatly improve as time went on, being constructed of sun baked bricks, sometimes two stories, built on stone foundations. A series of nine decorated skulls were seen at the site as well c.6000BC, believed to be used for ancestor worship. The skulls were painted with lime and socketed with two mother of pearl eyes.

Ancestor Skull

The culture flourished here until 4000 BC, when a thick layer of uninhabited organic matter lies below more recent habitations. Not until 3200BC, do peoples come to reinhabit the city proper.Little remains of the period, revealing only large tombs for burying large graves full of burnt skulls, 113 skulls in total all facing the inner chamber. The ceremonial burial customs at Jericho stand out amidst the Palestinian region, and do not reflect the traditions of those many cultures.

Bronze Age Jericho

A long period followed into the Bronze Age where cultivation increased and the walls repeatedly rebuilt and expanded. The site lies at a strategic point amidst the Trans-Jordan region, dominating a crucial juncture in the Middle east trading network. Much prosperity is thought to have led the inhabitants to neglect the outer defenses, as many portions of the walls show signs of hasty stonework, disorganized construction using baked mold bricks, as if sudden invasions prompted a new need for defenses. The project was burnt unfinished, invasions of nomadic Bedouins coming back to reclaim Jericho.

Later around 2300BC-1900BC, many new graves were added along a 248 meter stretch from the city. Anthropologists attribute the main occupation of this era to the Amorites, the semites who later conquered most of ancient Sumeria to the East.

From 1750BC-1580BC, the Hyksos chariot warriors invaded, referred to as the "Shepherd Kings" in the Bible, and greatly expanded the fortifications of the Jericho settlement. All throughout the Jordan region, the new conquerors built ramparts and new walls.

The Canannites

With the fall of the Hyksos warrior empire, the region became to be populated by the Canannites c 1400BC, which saw a major new series of defensive projects at Jericho and throughout the region. The city covered some six acres in their time, with walls over 21 feet tall.

Two large central fortresses three stories tall were built atop one of the seven hills of Jericho, surrounded by towers. Stone buttresses lined the walls, at least 3 meters thick. The Old Testament makes a vivid reference to the luxury of the city during the period: "numerous store shops, warehouses, animals for transport and domestication, vessels and utensils made of copper, iron, silver and gold."

The Jewish Exodus and the Wrath of the Ark of the Covenant

Under the command of Joshua, the host of the Isrealites carrying the mystical Ark of the Covenant crossed the river of Jordan and pitched a camp at Abel Shetem on the East Bank in the 13th century BC. Jericho was one of the prominent cities in Palestine that lay on the cutting block for the Israelites.

Priests bore the Arc of the Covenant and encompassed the city. Headed by seven priests, the trumpet-bearers, blew trumpets the Isreali host marching behind the Ark. The horns blew once daily for six days. On the seventh day the priests blew the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, " Shout, for the lord hath given you the city. And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein."

When Joshua stormed the city, it is said that the walls were smashed down, and the Israelites murdered and burned women, men, children and elderly alike within the walled city. All gold, silver, and valuables were confiscated in "the name of the Lord". Sparing no one, the city experienced such complete destruction, that the settlement did not come to be substantially reinhabited or repaired for over 600 years around 874BC-852BC, rebuilt by the Israeli King named Ahab.