A Little History: Jericho from Natufian to Bronze Age

Now that finals are over with, I may share my final projects with you, Here is a piece on Jericho.

Jericho has long been a city of interest. It’s tale in the book of Joshua earned it its fame, where it was destroyed by Joshua and the Israelites on route to Jerusalem. Though archaeology had difficulty proving the biblical stories of Jericho, it has been able to show the extensive history of the site and its inhabitants, beginning from the Natufian culture, leading through to the Bronze Age, where it was then abandoned mysteriously, for many years.

The oldest culture found in Jericho was that of the Natufians, these people were known to live around this area in about 10000BC.The Natufians were hunter-gatherers but remained in settlements for a small amount of time during the year.  Jericho was one of these settlements, in fact one of the largest.  The Natufians left behind scarce evidence bust what has been found includes grinding stones, flint and bone tools and shell decoration. Based on comparing the timeline of Jericho and the artifacts found, it is presumed, that the Natufians were the first to permanently settle in Jericho.

The majority of artifacts collected at Jericho come from the Neolithic period.  Kenyon determined that the earliest large scale settlement found must be Pre-Pottery Neolithic. John Garstang had found proof of Neolithic settlements in the 1930’s. Kenyon returned in the 1950’s to reevaluate and look further. Garstang’s findings included flints dating to 5000BC, hunting tools such as blades and arrow heads and then bone beads and mortars.  Garstang was the first to excavate and unveil the Neolithic layers.

The time period is determined mainly from the architecture of the buildings. Houses were round, using raw handmade mud bricks with dome shape roofs made of reeds. The bricks were not fired but only sundried. There was also presence of a plaster covering in yellow and pink tones to seal the house. All this architecture is typical to PPN settlements, along with early architecture, this was the period when the earth was beginning to warm and peoples began to settle and use agriculture. This settlement dates to around 9600BC.

As the city grows and develops, more evidence is found that the city was becoming  self-sustaining. Knives were found, as well as a small amount of arrow-heads, mortars, spindle disks and loom weights. The inhabitants of Jericho were making their own textiles and providing their own food source.  However this quantity of tools seems relatively small for such a settlement and it is unclear why no other tools appear. By the mix of tools for processing grains and arrow heads, this community seems to have been developing farming, but still hunting for a good portion of their food source.

In the PPN A Kenyon found the burial customs were to keep plastered skulls of ancestors underneath the floor. She found plaster decorated human skulls, painted and sculpted to keep personal features of the individual, along with shells inlaid as eyes.

Moving into Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, as defined by Kenyon, she notes how it is clear the population appeared to grow, but is skeptical as to why. There appears to be evidence of more people, and more building. New characteristics of society that appear in this time include a large amount of straw weaving and an early version of a fireplace.  PPNB burial and art customs change; Kenyon also found depictions of the human face and body in mask form. The earliest example of a stone cult statue also appears at Jericho, which is a small fertility figurine found by Kenyon.

One of the most impressive aspects to this Pre Pottery Neolithic settlement is the massive wall that surrounded the community.  Along with this wall was a tower, these aspects was not seen in other settlements of the time period. The tower was found by Kenyon and was 8m tall; with a staircase inside. There are many different theories of this wall and tower. Kenyon proposes it was simply for fortification, and she believes this is what shows that Jericho is the oldest urban complex. She believed this because the size of the structure lead her to believe that there had to be good social organization and central authority in order to organize the man power to build this wall and tower.

Moving into the Neolithic period a few changes are noticed. One is the living dwellings. In Neolithic there is a change from the round houses to shallow pit houses. This is also the period in which most early pottery was found. The pottery is crude, rarely with a slip, but appears wheel made.

The next key point of inhabitation is in the Bronze Age. The Bronze Age is important in the site because it is when the book of Joshua was dated. If there was any evidence for the biblical stories it would be found here. The book of Joshua has been dated to about the end of the Middle Bronze, leaning more to the Late Bronze Age.  The walls were taken down during this time but the specific dates raise argument.

Garstang originally had dated the  walls to the Middle and Late Bronze Age, believing that they were destroyed due to an invasion. Kenyon later dated them to Early Bronze Age. After reevaluating Garstang’s finds and combining them with her own, she found there was very little evidence showing occupation or inhabitation of the site during the Late Bronze Age, which began to disprove the idea of an Israelite invasion and occupation. Based on radiocarbon dating the wall is estimated to have been destroyed between 1617 and 1530 BC.

Leaving the religious aspect aside, Jericho holds much information showing how communities and culture developed during the Bronze Age, including a very well preserved cemetery. Based on the walls and architectural structure it is clear that the city grew in prosperity during this time.Both Garstang and Kenyon found mass amounts of pottery, also showing signs of wealth,  dating to the Bronze Age, between Early and Middle.

Garstang’s original findings include storages of grains, animal figurines and large amounts of pottery (not uncommon for ancient sites). The pottery that Garstang found was mainly painted bio chrome ware, in his reports he states he did not find any surrounding any tombs, but did throughout the city with the largest store in an isolated center building. Garstang also found older pottery, including Cypriot jugs and Hyksos scarabs.  Garstang attributed these particular scarabs to Amenhotep III, not taking into consideration that someone might have buried them later. This is how Garstang came to his conclusion that the city must have been abandoned sometime during his reign which dates around 1400BC, however the late carbon dates it as being left earlier. Garstang’s larger findings showed that of the floor plans of what he interpreted as a palace.

Kenyon’s was much of the same general goods and pottery with the inclusion of a large cemetery.  This particular cemetery, found under Kenyon’s excavations, has been one of the greatest of the Near East in creating databases and providing datable information because the remains were preserved so well. Burial customs had again changed: there were clear inhumation burials, but often with the skull separated and lined up together. What was truly extraordinary about these burials is that the wooden grave goods had preserved very well.

Scholars have not come up with a clear answer for why or how the city was abandoned, but at some point towards the end of the Middle Bronze Age it ceased to be occupied, and does not appear again in history as a major city until Classical Antiquity, under Alexander the Great.

Though Jericho continued to be abandoned for reasons unknown it was a successful and large urban settlement, one of the first in history. Through John Garstang and Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations the earliest history of Jericho has been able to be unveiled. Though we have not gotten closer to a definitive answer to the question of whether Joshua did bring the walls down, we have learned vital information about the Pre-history of the Near East. There are still gaps in knowledge of the settlements, but excavations at Jericho will continue.

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