Interesting Facts

Ancient Jericho: The First Walled City In History

The ancient city of Jericho is the world's oldest walled city, with evidence of stone fortifications dating back nearly 9000 years.

Jericho, also known as Arīḥā in Arabic, is a West Bank town. Perhaps founded as early as 9000 BC, Jericho is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Jericho’s long history has been proven by archaeological digs. The location of the city holds significant archaeological value as it showcases the initial stages of permanent settlement development and the progression towards civilization. Carbon dating back to approximately 9000 BC, remnants of Mesolithic hunters have been discovered, along with a prolonged period of habitation by their offspring. By 8000 BC, the settlers had developed into a cohesive group capable of building a substantial stone wall around the settlement, which was at one point reinforced by a colossal stone tower.

The term “town” is appropriate given the size of this settlement, which indicates a population of about 2,000–3,000 people. Thus, during the course of these 1,000 years, people have transitioned from a hunting to a fully settled lifestyle. This suggests the evolution of agriculture, and grains of cultivated wheat and barley have been discovered. Thus, one location that offers proof of extremely early agriculture is Jericho. It is very likely that irrigation had been developed in order to supply enough land for cultivation. Palestine’s initial Neolithic culture was an entirely indigenous creation.

Walls of Jericho. Photo credit: The Archaeologist.
Walls of Jericho. Photo credit: The Archaeologist.

A second, non-native group succeeded these around 7000 BC, bringing with them a Neolithic culture that continued to lack the ability to make pottery. This occupation most likely marks the entry of newcomers from one of the other centers where the Neolithic agricultural way of life had developed, perhaps in northern Syria. By 6000 BC, this second Neolithic stage came to an end. The next millennia at Jericho are mostly devoid of evidence of human habitation.

Jericho did not begin to exhibit the effects of northern developments until approximately 5000 BC. At that time, an increasing number of Neolithic villages—marked by the use of pottery—had begun to appear. Nonetheless, the earliest ceramic users in Jericho were rudimentary in comparison to those who came before them, residing in uncomplicated underground huts. Most likely, they were pastoralists in the main. Over the next 2,000 years, occupation was sparse and possibly intermittent.

Aerial view of ancient Jericho. Photo credit: The Archaeologist

Like the rest of Palestine, Jericho saw the emergence of an urban culture again around the end of the fourth millennium BC. Jericho was once again a walled town, having had its walls rebuilt numerous times. The urban life again broke down around 2300 BC. The newcomers, who were nomadic and comprised of several groups, were most likely the Amorites. Their descendants, who shared a culture throughout the Mediterranean littoral, were the Canaanites, who lived around 1900 BC.

Excavations have revealed evidence of Canaanite houses and domestic furniture, which were discovered in their tombs as the deceased’s possessions in the afterlife. The Canaanites brought town life back to their homeland. These discoveries have indicated the nature of the culture that the Israelites found when they infiltrated into Canaan and that they largely adopted.

3D reconstruction of Ancient Jericho. Photo credit: The Archaeologist

In biblical history, Jericho is well-known for being the first town that Joshua’s Israelites attacked after crossing the Jordan River (Joshua 6). The biblical story states that after the Israelites destroyed it, it was abandoned until Hiel the Bethelite settled there in the ninth century BC (1 Kings 16:34). The Bible makes multiple references to Jericho. Herod the Great built a winter home in Jericho, where he passed away in 4 BC. The 1950s and 1951 excavations uncovered some information about Herodian Jericho: a stunning façade by the Wadi Al-Qilṭ is most likely a remnant of Herod’s palace, and its design reflects Herod’s adoration for Rome.

This area, roughly one mile (1.6 km) south of the Old Testament town, became the center of Roman and New Testament Jericho. Traces of other fine buildings can be seen in this area. A mile east of the Old Testament site, on a third site, was the Crusader city of Jericho, where the modern town would eventually grow.

14th century map of Jericho in Farchi Bible. Photo credit: The Archaeologist
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