Tell es-Sultan or Ancient Jericho is a famous UNESCO-nominated archaeological site in the West Bank, situated adjacent to the Ein as-Sultan refugee camp two kilometers north of the Jericho Center. The tell was populated from the 10th millennium BCE and has been called “the oldest town in the world,” with many important archaeological finds; the site is also famous for its function in the history of Levantine archaeology.
Natufian hunter-gatherers, c. 10,000 BCE
The first stable settlement on the location evolved between 10,000 and 9000 BCE. During the Younger Dryas period of drought and cold, permanent habitation of any one site was impossible. However, Tell es-Sultan was a famous camping ground for Natufian hunter-gatherer tribes due to the neighboring Ein as-Sultan spring; these hunter-gatherers left numerous crescent-shaped microlith tools behind them. Around 9600 BCE, the cold and drought of the Younger Dryas stadial came to an ultimate conclusion, making it possible for Natufian groups to extend their stay, eventually leading to permanent settlement and year-round habitation.
Pre-Pottery Neolithic, c. 8500 BCE
The Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period at Tell es-Sultan (8500 – 7500 BCE) saw the development of one of the world’s first significant proto-cities. As the planet warmed up, a new culture based on sedentary dwelling and agriculture emerged. Archaeologists have termed “Pre-Pottery Neolithic A” (PPNA) called the Sultanian period after the town. PPNA communities are characterized by the burial of the dead under the floor of buildings, small circular dwellings, the cultivation of wild or domestic cereals, reliance on hunting wild game, and no use of pottery yet.
After a few years, the first settlement was deserted. After the PPNA settlement phase, there was a settlement gap of many centuries. Then the PPNB settlement was established on the eroded surface of the tell. This second settlement, founded in 6800 BCE, possibly represents the work of an invading people who consumed the original inhabitants into their dominant culture. Artifacts recording from this era include ten plastered human skulls painted to reconstitute the individuals’ characteristics. Other finds included mysterious flints, such as arrowheads (side-notched or tanged), finely denticulated sickle-blades, scrapers, burins, obsidian, a few tranchet axes, and green obsidian.
A series of settlements followed from 4500 BCE onward, the largest built in 2600 BCE. Tell es-Sultan was constantly occupied into the Middle Bronze Age; it was demolished in the Late Bronze, after which it no longer worked as an urban center. The town was enclosed by extensive defensive walls reinforced with rectangular towers and maintained a vast cemetery with upright shaft-tombs and secret burial chambers; the minute funeral offerings in some of these may reflect the evolution of local kings.
Tell es-Sultan remained abandoned from the end of the 15th to the 10th-9th centuries BCE, when the kings refurbished the city. Of this new city, not much more remains than a four-room house on the east slope. By the 7th century, Jericho had become a far-reaching town, but this settlement was destroyed in the Babylonian triumph of Judah in the late 6th century.