Jericho: History, Archaeology, People, Plastered Skulls

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Jericho plastered skull

Jericho — the Biblical city of Joshua, trumpets and falling walls — is regarded by some as the oldest city and the the oldest continually inhabited place in the world. Established around 7,500 B.C. in an arid valley 600 feet below sea level in Palestine near the Dead Sea, ancient Jericho was home to 2000 to 3000 people that survived on plants that thrived in a fertile area around an oasis. Strains of wheat and barley and obsidian tools have been discovered that came from elsewhere. Ancient Jericho had an elaborate system of walls, towers and moats. The circular wall that surrounded the settlement had a circumference of about 200 meters and was four meters high. The wall in turn was surrounded by a 30-foot-wide, 10-foot-deep moat. The technology used to build them was virtually the same as those used in medieval castles. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

Located near a permanent spring a few miles west of the Jordan River and excavated by Kathleen Kenyon, Jericho is certainly one of the world’s oldest fortified settlement but whether it qualifies as a city is a matter of some debate. There are indications of settlement after 9000 B.C.. This settlement grew to city-like status by 7000 B.C. The archaeological site is situated in the plain of the Jordan Valley two kilometers northwest of modern Jericho city. It is a large artificial mound, rising 21 meters high and covering an area of about one acre.

The Archeological Museum of Jordan has a stunning collection of 9,000-year-old sculptured heads from Jericho. Consisting of on an actual skull with plaster skin and sea shell eyes, each head is different. Some archeologists claim they were sealed "spirit" traps," designed to keep the soul from wandering around.

Neolithic Pre-Pottery and Pottery Stages in Southwest Asia

In the archaeology of Southwest Asia (the Near East, Middle East) — which includes the Levant (Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon) and Anatolia (present-day Turkey) — the Middle to Late Neolithic period, also known as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, is divided into two periods: 1) Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) and 2) Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB). The terms were originally defined by Kathleen Kenyon, an archaeologist who worked extensively at Jericho in Palestine in the 1950s. PPNA and PPNB cultures developed from the Mesolithic. Southern- Levantine-based Natufian culture. However, PPNB shows evidence of a northerly origin, possibly indicating an influx from northeastern Anatolia. [Source: Wikipedia]

1) The PPNA culture dates around 12,000 to 10,800 years ago (10,000–8800 B.C.) and is associated most with the southern Levant. It is characterized by tiny circular mud-brick dwellings, the early cultivation of crops, the hunting of wild game, and unique burial customs in which bodies were buried below the floors of dwellings. 2) The PPNB culture was centered in upper Mesopotamia and the Levant, and dates to around 10,800 to 8,500 years ago (8800–6500 B.C.). It differs from the PPNA period in that people relied more on domesticated animals to supplement their mixed agrarian and hunter-gatherer diet. In addition, the flint tool kit of the period is new and quite different from that of the earlier period.

Ceramic Neolithic or Pottery Neolithic, is the final part of the Neolithic period. It followed PPNB and is sometimes further divided into Pottery Neolithic A (PNA) and Pottery Neolithic B (PNB) phases. The Late Neolithic period in Southwest Asia began with the first experiments with pottery, around 7000 B.C. and lasted until the discovery of copper metallurgy and the start of the Chalcolithic (Copper Age) around 4500 B.C.

Early Inhabitants of Jericho

In 7000 B.C., Jericho encompassed of about eight to ten acres and was home to estimated two to three thousand people. It was inhabited by people who depended on collecting wild seeds for food. It is appears that they did not plant seeds, but harvested wild grains using scythes with flint edges and straight bone handles and used stone mortars with handles for grinding them. Some people lived in caves, while others occupied primitive villages with round huts made from sun-dried bricks. They buried their dead with jewelry in graves made out of rock.

Natufian skeletons

The early inhabitants of Jericho dug out canals to bring water from nearby sources to where they lived and perhaps to irrigate land with wild plants they harvested for food. They constructed huge two-meter-thick walls around their villages. Inside the main fortified settlement was a circular stone tower, nine meters in diameter, and ten meters high, built for protection and requiring thousands of man hours to build.

The people of ancient Jericho practiced the domestication of animals, and weaving mats, as well as animal hunting, and perhaps, agriculture. They used spears and flint-capped arrows. They also used hatchets to cut tree branches. Some inhabitants expanded from their settlements in search of new homes outside their boundaries.

Jericho’s first inhabitants, a people called the Natufians, practiced barley cultivation. Pre-Biblical Jericho had an elaborate system of walls, towers and moats by 7,500 B.C. . Thirty-foot-high stone observation tower required thousands of man hours to build. The original walls of Jericho appear to have been built for flood control rather defensive purposes. Another surprising thing about Jericho is that no pottery or baked clay bricks have been found. The excavations go quite deep. By 3000 B.C. the Jericho Valley was a major wine-producing area.


The Natufian culture refers to mostly hunter-gatherers who lived in modern-day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria approximately 15,000 to 11,500 years ago. Merging nomadic and settled lifestyles, they were among the first people to build permanent houses and cultivate edible plants. The advancements they achieved are believed to have been crucial to the development of agriculture during the time periods that followed them.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica: Mainly hunters, the Natufians supplemented their diet by gathering wild grain; they likely did not cultivate it. They had sickles of flint blades set in straight bone handles for harvesting grain and stone mortars and pestles for grinding it. Some groups lived in caves, others occupied incipient villages. They buried their dead with their personal ornaments in cemeteries. Carved bone and stone artwork have been found. [Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica ]

Matti Friedman wrote in Smithsonian magazine: Natufians were linked by characteristic tools, particularly a small, half-moon-shaped flint blade called a lunate,. They also showed signs of the “intentional cultivation” of plants, according to Ofer Bar-Yosef, professor of prehistoric archaeology at Harvard University, using a phrase that seems carefully chosen to avoid the loaded term “agriculture.” Other characteristic markers included jewelry made of dentalium shells, brought from the Mediterranean or the Red Sea; necklaces of beads made of exquisitely carved bone; and common genetic characteristics like a missing third molar. [Source: Matti Friedman, Smithsonian magazine, July-August 2023]

History of Tell es-Sultan (Ancient Jericho)


Tell al-Sultan, which predates Egypt's pyramids by more than 4,000 years, is an oval-shaped tell, or mound, in the Jordan Valley, and contains prehistoric Jericho. After it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2023, a UNESCO spokeswoman said: Given Tell al-Sultan's "importance as the oldest fortified city in the world... it deserves to be a World Heritage Site". "A permanent settlement had emerged here by the 9th to 8th millennium B.C. due to the fertile soil of the oasis and easy access to water. The "skulls and statues found on the site" testify to cultic practices among the neolithic population there, while the early Bronze Age archaeological material shows signs of urban planning. Vestiges from the middle Bronze age reveal the presence of a large Canaanite city-state occupied by a socially complex population." The site has been under excavation for more than a century. [Source: Imad Abu Sombul with Jay Deshmukh, AFP, September 18, 2023]

According to UNESCO: “Tell es-Sultan, the ancient city of Jericho, is the lowest (258 meters below sea level) and the oldest town on earth. It grew up around a perennial spring, Ain es-Sultan, in an area of fertile alluvial soil which attracted hunter-gatherer groups to settle down, and to start a process of plant and animal domestication. Archaeological excavations carried out in the mid-20th century evidenced 23 layers of ancient civilizations at the site. The earliest remains date back to the Natufian period, 10th-8th millennia BC. By the 8th millennium B.C. Jericho became a big fortified town surrounded by a stone wall supported by a massive round tower. These are the earliest urban fortifications known in the world, later several times replaced. Their early date took the history of urbanity and domestication back several millennia at the time of their discovery in the 1950s. The Neolithic population of Jericho developed a complex society where house construction, crafts, such as weaving and matting, and mythological and social conception of burial and religion were practiced. The Neolithic houses were built with dried mud bricks: the initial round shape of their construction developed into the rectangular form. [Source: UNESCO ==]

“During the Early Bronze Age, Tell es-Sultan was a fortified town and one of the most flourishing Canaanite City-States in Palestine. It lasted more than a thousand years before being demolished by nomadic groups in the last centuries of the second millennium BC. Afterwards, the site was rebuilt again at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age, and surrounded by a mud brick wall that lasted until 1580 BC, when it was violently destroyed by fire. However,Jerichowas probably scantily re-occupied in the late Bronze Age, since few remains of this period were found. Throughout the Iron Ages, Tell es-Sultan was re-occupied again, especially in the 7th century BC, a phase which lasted until the end of Iron Age II (586 BC). Thereafter, the tell was no longer occupied, although Byzantine remains were found on its eastern side close to the spring of Ain es-Sultan. The surrounding area, however, today’s Jerichoand environs, was continuously occupied in a fluctuating history over the last two and a half millennia. ==

“The archaeological methodology applied to make these discoveries is also regionally significant. It involved the use at Tell es-Sultan of techniques associated with the English archaeologist, Mortimer Wheeler, developed by him in the 1930s and passed on to his associates and students such as Kathleen Kenyon. She followed his precepts at Tell es-Sultan with large, deep, horizontal trenches designed to expose stratigraphy rather than merely find ‘remains’ or objects. Thus the wall and tower, and indeed the evidence of domestication, were found in a secure cultural and chronological context. The well-preserved trenches remain as witnesses to the development of archaeological research methods in Palestine. Visitors can still see some of the layers in which lies the history of the tell. ==

Plastered Human Skulls from Jericho and The Levant

Plastered human skulls are human skulls covered with layers of plaster. They have typically been found in the ancient Levant, and particularly associated with Jericho, around 9000 years ago, in the the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period. They represent some of the oldest forms of art in the Middle East and denote some of the earliest forms of sculpture and portraiture in the history of art. They also demonstrate that the prehistoric population took great care in burying their ancestors below their homes. [Source: Wikipedia]

Jericho plastered skull

The process of making a plastered human skulls typically involved the removal of the jawbone. Signs of wear suggest they were handled over time. The skulls were often found buried alongside other human remains in a consistent pattern. The skulls generally tilt backwards. There appears to be no discernible pattern when it comes to the age or gender of the skulls selected for plastering. Still, most of the plastered skulls are from adult males, but some belong to women and children.

One of the first plastered skulls found was accidentally unearthed in the 1930s by the archaeologist John Garstang at Jericho. A number of plastered skulls from Jericho were discovered by the British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in the 1950s and can now be seen in the collections of the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum, the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Nicholson Museum in Sydney, and the Jordan Archaeological Museum.

In the mid 2010s, forensic experts under the direction of Alexandra Fletcher of the British Museum reconstructed the face of a man who lived around 9,500 years ago in Jericho based on a micro-CT scan of his plastered skull, which had clamshells for eyes. According to Archaeology magazine: “The scan reveals that the skull belonged to a man who died after the age of 40 and had a broken nose that healed during his lifetime. In addition, his skull had been tightly bound from early infancy, changing its shape. But otherwise he looked a person living today. “This person lived a very long time ago,” says Fletcher, “but he could go out shopping in London today, and nobody would turn a hair. He’s a modern human, just like you or me.” [Source: Daniel Weiss, Archaeology magazine, March-April 2017]

Places besides Jericho where where plastered skulls have been excavated include Ain Ghazal in Jordan; Beisamoun, Kfar HaHoresh, and Yiftahel in Israel; Tell Ramad and Tell Awad in Syria; and Kösk Höyük in Turkey. According to the Upper Galilee Museum of Prehistory, “The custom of removing the skull and shaping a face made of plaster was a common praxis during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period in the Levant. The plastered and ornate skulls were then buried under the floors of the house as part of a ritual ceremony.”

Purpose and Artistry of Plastered Human Skulls

. Skulls plastering is one of the earliest burial practices in the southern Levant. During the Neolithic period, the deceased were often buried under the floors of their homes under plaster floors. Sometimes the skull was removed and cavities were filled with plaster and painted. Presumably order to create more lifelike faces, shells were inset for eyes and paint was used to represent facial features, hair, and moustaches.

Kathleen Kenyon studying plastered skulls

Some scholars believe that skull plastering was an early form of ancestor worship, where the plastered skulls were used to commemorate and respect family ancestors. Other experts argue that the plastered skulls could be linked to the practice of head hunting, and used as trophies although there is not much evidence to support this.

One plastered skull — Skull 88-1 — is regarded as the truly outstanding work of art. “The 9000-year-old plastered skull exhibits a remarkable sophistication in the treatment of the human visage. It exemplifies the work of an individual in full command of his/her craft, who handled the difficult plaster technology with great skill, captured the anatomy of the face, and masterfully executed the modeling. The area of the eyebrows and the dreamy expression of the eyes are particularly impressive.

A possible written reference to plastered skulls known to history is in the Tale of Aqhat goes:
"A mortal,
what does he get in the end?
What does a mortal finally get?
Glaze poured on his head,
lime on top of his skull."

Houses and Daily Life in Jericho

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”:“T Excavations at Jericho, directed by Miss Kathleen Kenyon, produced impressive evidence of the development of village culture prior to the invention of pottery. Floors surrounded by stone and earth humps were found in the earliest levels, but solid structures soon began to appear. Circular houses, with pounded earth floors cut below the level of the surrounding terrain, had upper walls of upright poles and elongated, cigar shaped bricks sloping inward to form domed roofs. Woven reed mats covered the floors. Around this community, a wall of free-standing stone had been built, over six feet wide in some places and still standing to a height of twelve feet. A huge tower more than thirty feet high with an interior staircase was built against the inner wall. Such structures indicate the existence of fully developed, cooperative community life as early as the sixth and seventh millennium B.C.[Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

“Subsequent layers of occupation reveal new living patterns. Houses become rectilinear with plastered floors and walls. Bones of goats, pigs, sheep and cattle point to domestication of these animals. Obsidian, turquoise and cowrie shells were imported from Syria, the Sinai peninsula and the Mediterranean for manufacture of tools and ornaments. In a shrine, a piece of volcanic stone from the Dead Sea area was placed in a niche, perhaps foreshadowing the sacred standing pillars mentioned in the Bible. Clay figurines and human skulls with features skillfully modeled in fine clay reveal artistic tendencies and, perhaps, if these items are cult objects, association with worship. Later, in the Neolithic period (fifth millennium), pottery-making begins. From this period have come three almost life-sized plaster statues built on reed frames, representing a man, woman, and child. The male head, which alone was recovered intact, is a flat disc of clay about one inch thick, with shells for eyes and brown paint for hair. It is possible that a divine triad is represented.

Biblical Jericho and Joshua

According to UNESCO: “Numerous religious events and beliefs are associated with the site and area. For example, the spring of Ain es-Sultan is biblically called Elisha’s spring, in which the prophet (Elisha) made the water at Jericho healthy. Luke narrates that Jesus visited Jericho more than once; on one such occasion (19:1.4), “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. Now a man named Zacchaeus was trying to get a look at Jesus, but being a short man he could not see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him”. High above the site, perched on the cliff facing the west, is the monastery of the Mount of Temptation, traditionally built at or close to the place where Jesus, fasting for 40 days after his baptism, was offered by Satan the kingdom of the world in exchange for his homage. ==

Jericho tower

Joshua was successor to Moses and regarded as the Bible's most famous warrior. He led the Jews into Canaan after they had spent 40 years wandering in the Sinai. In Canaan, the Jews evolved from a nomadic people into a strong nation. Joshua united the tribes into a strong fighting force.Joshua led a number of fabled military campaigns in Canaan against the Moabites, Ammonites, the Philistines and other peoples and tribes. There is no archaeological evidence that any of these campaigns ever took place. Archaeologists have uncovered ash layers and other signs of destruction at only one of the many battlegrounds mentioned in the Bible.

Michael Symmons Roberts of BBC wrote: “It was Joshua, the great general, who assembled the Hebrews on the east bank of the Jordan, and led them across the river into the land of Canaan. And so began the final conquest of the promised land, beginning with that most historic armed struggle, the battle of Jericho. |By the end of his military campaign, Joshua had completed what Moses began. He had given birth to the Jewish nation. The Jewish people of Jesus' time were not just looking for the new Moses. They were waiting for a military saviour who could do to the Romans both what Moses did to the Egyptians and what Joshua had done to the Canaanites. In other words, they were waiting for the man who would reclaim the promised land for the Jewish people. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18. 2009 |::|]

Story of Joshua and the Walls of Jericho

According to the BBC: “The story of the walls of Jericho is one of the most violent episodes in the Bible. An army of nomads emerges from the desert and destroys a heavily fortified city... not by force, but by faith. The story is set in the Middle East, some 3000 years ago. Even then, the area was plagued by war. The story begins with Joshua and his army preparing an attack in the mountains to the north-east of the Dead Sea. From the mountains, Joshua looks west across the river Jordan toward his destination. According to the Bible, this was the territory God once pledged to Abraham and his descendants. At Joshua's command are some 40,000 Israelite men, descendants of the Hebrew slaves who fled Egypt. There is one problem: the country is already inhabited by Canaanites. [Source: BBC, July 6, 2009 |::|]

20120502-735px-Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860_069 Jericho.png“Like any good military commander, Joshua's first requirement is to gather military intelligence. He sends out two spies across the Jordan River ahead of time. They go immediately to an inn that's run by a prostitute. In the ancient world, brothels and taverns were obvious places to gather information. The spies meet a prostitute called Rahab. But things soon go wrong. No sooner have they come to her house than the King of Jericho sends his men, because he knows that the spies have arrived. Rahab takes charge of the whole situation. She hides the spies in the stocks of grain on her roof. |::|

“When the King's guards come, Rahab says to them: "Some men came, you're right, but they left a long time ago when the city gate closed. If you rush ahead and go down to the Jordan, I think you'll find them there." Having thus diverted the pursuers, she goes up to the roof and tells the spies that she knows that Israel will conquer the land. She knows that God has promised the land to them. |::|

“The Bible tells how the army walked around the walled city of Jericho once a day for six days. Each time they walked priests blew trumpets. On the seventh day they circled seven times and the walls of the city came crashing down. Joshua and his army conquered the city, massacring every person they found. Only Rahab and her family were saved. The once mighty city of Jericho had been set alight. Joshua and his people then continued to destroy other towns and cities and Joshua succeeded in conquering Canaan.” |::|

Walls of Jericho

Jericho is in the West Bank of Palestine. It is the spot where the Bible says Israelites ended their desert-wandering and where the Israelites led by Joshua scored their first big victory in the Promised Land. According to the Bible, the walls of Jericho "fell flat down" during the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites after Joshua ordered his the children to unleash " a great shout" and his priests to blow their trumpets as they circled the city seven times. There is little historical evidence to back up any of it. Jericho wasn’t even inhabited at the time it was said to have been attacked.

Archaeologists contend a more likely explanation for the tumbling walls was an earthquake. Jericho sits right on the active Jordan fault between the Syrian plate and Arabian plate. Jericho has been leveled many times by earthquakes, most recently in 1927.

Excavations by archaeologists at Jericho of layers dated to around the time Biblical event reveal walls that all fell in one direction (consistent with an earthquake, those leveled by armies are scattered) and food was found underneath them (showing the walls fell suddenly without warning before it could be hauled away). The Bible also says the Jordan River stopped flowing. During Dead Sea zone earthquakes it is not unusual for the banks of the Jordan River to collapse briefly damming it. [National Geographic Geographica, January 1992].

There is clear archaeological evidence that Jericho was destroyed but the timing of the evidence is off. From what can be gleaned by the Bible, Joshua's conquest of Jericho took place in the 13th century B.C. but according to the archaeological record Jericho was abandoned between the 15th century and 11th century B.C.

Evidence of Joshua and the Walls of Jericho

Walls of Jericho

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: According to the Bible, and a religious song you may know, Joshua fought a battle at Jericho. The one-time spook and former assistant to Moses led the Israelites around the city walls on successive days until, after seven circuits on the seventh day, the walls fell down. Then the Israelites, following divine commands, slaughtered every living thing in the city — adults, children, and their pets. It’s not a happy story so you should breathe a sigh of relief that these events never took place. When archaeologists excavated the site at Tell es-Sultan, where the battle was supposed to have taken place, they discovered that it had been abandoned long before Joshua’s arrival. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, October 30, 2022]

According to the BBC: “Many archaeologists have struggled to find evidence of a historical battle at Jericho at the time the story takes place in the Bible. Through their quests they have uncovered many intriguing facts about the Canaanites and Israelites which challenge many assumptions. Archaeologists have discovered that a series of earthquakes swept through the Eastern Mediterranean, including where Jericho stood, in around 1250 BC, and certainly brought walls crumbling down. However, the dates don't match with the time Joshua was supposedly conquering the land. Maybe the memory of the destruction of the towns inspired scribes to write about a great warrior who conquered cities with God's will. Or perhaps the catastrophic collapse of the old world through the earthquakes gave way to opportunism and Israelite groups took advantage of the destruction of the existing Canaanite cities and began to settle in Israel. [Source: BBC, July 6, 2009 |::|]

“There is a twist to the story. Recent DNA research shows that the Canaanites and Israelites were not just similar in their cultures, they were genetically identical. Perhaps the Israelites did not conquer the land at all - they were there all along. Is then, the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho complete fiction? Well, perhaps not. Joshua's military tactics are plausible and it is possible that some Israelites did travel across from Egypt. Authors could have embellished stories of their ancestors. The story is most probably a culmination of separate oral traditions. Maybe there as a historical figure called Joshua who travelled with his people to a new land.” |::|

Jericho Disappointing 10,000th Birthday

On October 10th 2010, Jericho celebrated it reputed “10,000th Birthday.” The celebration turned out to be a poorly planned dud. Edmund Sanders wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Imagine you turned 10,000 years old — and nobody showed up at your birthday party. That's a bit how they're feeling in the ancient West Bank city of Jericho, believed to be one of the world's oldest continually inhabited settlements.” In 2007, “Palestinians made big plans for Jericho's historic birthday. Nobody really knows the exact anniversary, but Palestinians thought 10-10-10 had a good ring to it. The idea was to host an international blowout to rival the 2000 millennium, including fireworks, laser shows, half a million guests and a who's who of international dignitaries. They dreamed of bringing singer Shakira to perform, and city officials figured they'd need to build at least a couple of new hotels and some restaurants to handle the crowds. [Source: Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, October 14, 2010 -]

“But when Oct. 10 rolled around, the party — to say the least — fell flatter than the city's walls once did. A single balloon floated over the city square, a local band named Culture Shock performed on a portable stage, and some new artwork and an ancient mosaic were unveiled. No foreign diplomats attended the opening ceremony, Shakira was not there to sing or shake, and even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was a no-show. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, greeted by a few dozen Jericho children, unveiled a Jericho-themed postage stamp. -

Modern Jericho

“Like much in the West Bank, Jericho's birthday fete appears to have fallen victim to inadequate finances, poor organization and political infighting. City officials said they received no funds to prepare. A planning committee fell into disarray as members and chairpersons kept changing. And a publicity firm was not hired until 10 days before the event. "Unfortunately, we've been late in everything," Jericho city spokeswoman Weaam Iriqat said, sighing. -

“Jericho has a history of high hopes and lost opportunities. With skeletal remains dating to the Stone Age and a prominent place in the Bible, the renowned city has long been seen as the West Bank's most promising tourist destination. This is the spot where the Bible says Israelites ended their desert-wandering and brought down Jericho's walls with a trumpet. There's a sycamore tree said to be the one Jesus once passed and a monastery built into a hillside where Jesus is said to have resisted Satan's temptations. -

“After the 1993 Oslo peace accords, Jericho blossomed, drawing Palestinian investors and throngs of Israeli tourists enjoying a new casino and luxury hotel. But after the 2000 Palestinian uprising, the Israeli military banned its citizens from visiting Jericho. The casino was shuttered, and today tourists generally swing through town in a couple of hours, barely getting off the bus. The historic Old City, which wasn't included in Sunday's celebration, is little more than some dirt mounds, with no guides or signs to orient visitors. Indeed, there is nary a placard in sight to show where the walls once stood.” -

Tell al-Sultan (Jericho) Named UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2023

In September 2023, UNESCO inscribed the prehistoric site of Tell al-Sultan, near the Palestinian city of Jericho in the occupied West Bank, on its World Heritage List, a move criticized by Israel. "The property proposed for nomination is the prehistoric archaeological site of Tell al-Sultan, located outside the antique site of Jericho," UNESCO's assistant director general, Ernesto Ottone, said at the session. [Source: Imad Abu Sombul with Jay Deshmukh, AFP, September 18, 2023]

The site was inscribed following a three-year candidacy "during which no state party raised any objections", said a diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media. "There are no Jewish or Christian remains found at the (Tell al-Sultan) site. It's a place of pre-historic remains," the diplomat told AFP.

Israel quit the UN organisation in 2019 over accusations that it fosters an anti-Israel bias, but did send a delegation to this year's meeting in Saudi Arabia. "The foreign ministry considers today's decision another sign of the cynical use the Palestinians are making of UNESCO and the organisation's politicisation," an Israeli foreign ministry statement said. "Israel will act with its many friends in the organisation to change the flawed decisions made."

The Palestinian Authority, acknowledged by the United Nations as a non-member observer state, welcomed the listing of Tell al-Sultan site. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said he considered the decision "a matter of great importance and evidence of the authenticity and history of the Palestinian people". He vowed that the Palestinian authorities would "continue to preserve this unique site for all humanity", a statement from his office said.

UNESCO's listing shows that the site is "an integral part of the diverse Palestinian heritage of exceptional human value", Palestinian tourism minister Rula Maayah, who was at the meeting in Riyadh, said in a statement. Jericho is a major tourist destination in the Palestinian territories. Tell al-Sultan is the fourth Palestinian site to be listed on UNESCO's world heritage list, alongside the Church of the Nativity and the Old City of Hebron. Israel has occupied the West Bank -- now home to some three million Palestinians -- since the 1967 Six-Day War, when it also seized the Gaza Strip, the densely populated coastal enclave from which it withdrew in 2005. The Palestinians want both territories for their future state, along with annexed east Jerusalem as its capital.

Archaeology is a highly political subject in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and discoveries have been used to justify territorial claims. UNESCO also urged that other archaeological sites in Jericho be protected. "The other archaeological sites located in Jericho, covering among other Jewish and Christian heritage, also have important historical interest and deserve to be preserved as well," Ottone said.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except Walls of Jericho from Creation Ministries

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, "World Religions" edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); "History of Warfare" by John Keegan (Vintage Books); "History of Art" by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2024

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