Tell Es-Sultan – A Pilot Project for Archaeology in Palestine

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By: Lorenzo Nigro, University of Rome La Sapienza

General view of the site of Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho from south, with the Middle Bronze Age (1900-1550 BC) fortification works at the southern side of the tell. All photos courtesy of Lorenzo Nigro.

General view of the site of Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho from south, with the Middle Bronze Age (1900–1550 BC) fortification works at the southern side of the tell. All photos courtesy of Lorenzo Nigro.

In a few weeks students and young scholars of Rome “La Sapienza” University, along with Palestinian colleagues from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, will return to Tell es-Sultan. The site – identified since late antiquity with Biblical Jericho, the Canaanite city-state of Rwha –is the most visited Archaeological Park in the Palestinian Territories with up to 380,000 people per year. In 1997 Rome “La Sapienza” University was chosen as counterpart for a joint Project devoted to the rehabilitation of this site, which had been neglected for at least 40 years from Kathleen M. Kenyon’s last season in 1958, as a training dig for young Italian and Palestinian archaeologists.

The Pilot Project and Palestinian Cultural Heritage

The joint Italian-Palestinian Expedition to Tell es-Sultan has aimed at the preservation and promotion for tourism of this world-renowned site, within the framework of safeguarding cultural heritage that is the basic goal of the Department of Archaeology of Palestine. This theoretical perspective addresses issues such as the respect for all antiquities without distinctions for their cultural, religious, and chronological attribution; the publication and maximum dissemination of archaeological data; and the protection of the landscape as cultural heritage to be preserved and protected from disorderly building activities and illegal plunders’ digging.

From this respect, the rehabilitation of Tell es-Sultan was a real challenge. This site is a symbol of Biblical Archaeology, stemming from the place of Jericho in the Conquest Narrative of the Book of Joshua. Moreover, Jericho was also a living monument of modern archaeology, since it was the place where Dame Kathleen Mary Kenyon systematically experimented the excavation method based on stratigraphy, her long and deep trenches cutting deep into the history of humankind. One of the goals of the Project was to resume her work, letting readable horizontal stratigraphy together with the vertical exposures and explaining contexts and finds to visitors.

Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho, Area A: a PPNB (7500-6000 BC) round enclosure excavated in the open yard west of MB I-II Tower A1 (in the left background) (a), with a detail of its entrance (b).

Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho, Area A: a PPNB (7500-6000 BC) round enclosure excavated in the open yard west of MB I-II Tower A1 (in the left background) (a), with a detail of its entrance (b).

The Italian-Palestinian Expedition 1997–2014

The joint Expedition started in 1997 and continued for four seasons until year 2000. This first stage of the Project (co-directed with Nicolò Marchetti) allowed the site to be opened to the public after restoration of the Early Bronze and Middle Bronze fortifications. The Expedition produced two books and a series of articles on some major features of the Bronze Age city: the identification of the Lower City and the awareness that the Spring of ‘Ain es-Sultan was included within the city.

After a long interruption due to political troubles – which, however, never affected scientific production and cooperation   – work at the site was resumed in 2009 with two main areas of interest: the southern foot of the tell, where a major Middle Bronze I-II building was discovered (Tower A1), and the so-called Spring Hill overlooking ‘Ain es-Sultan, where the Early Bronze Age Palace (Palace G) was identified. Starting from these two spots, up to eleven different areas of the tell were excavated, restored, and rehabilitated to be visited by tourists, illustrating the ten millennia-long life of Jericho from the Epipaleolithic to Islamic Period.

The Neolithic Period: earliest agriculture, animal husbandry, pottery, family, religion and mudbricks

The Italian-Palestinian excavations reached the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) Period in Kenyon’s Trench I and in Area A. In Trench I, a wall leaning over the PPNA Round Tower made of loaf-shaped mudbricks with an ashy tempered mud mortar was identified, along with a PPNB cist-burial with a skull. In Area A, at the southern foot of the tell, a PPNB boundary wall of an animal pen was excavated in 2012 west of Middle Bronze I–II Tower A1, showing the huge extension of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic town. In the same area, the finding and recording of a number of stone tools offered further information on food producing activities connected with early agriculture and animal husbandry.

View of the site of Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho, cut off to the east by the modern road, and of the nearby Spring of ‘Ain es-Sultan.

View of the site of Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho, cut off to the east by the modern road, and of the nearby Spring of ‘Ain es-Sultan.

Early Bronze Age: rise, flourish and collapse of the earliest city

The rise of the Early Bronze Age city, its continuous development from the initial Early Bronze I rural village to the fortified city of Early Bronze II, as well as change in socio-economic organization of the Jericho community through the analyses of funerary evidence in the necropolis, were documented by the Expedition. The study of John Garstang’s Tomb A permitted identification of a chief, characterized by a body posture with raised arms and the presence of a mace head.

Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho, Area Q: the EB IIIA (2700-2500 BC) Inner City-Wall with the postern excavated to the south of Kenyon’s Trench I and Site D, from north-east.

Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho, Area Q: the EB IIIA (2700-2500 BC) Inner City Wall with the postern excavated to the south of Kenyon’s Trench I and Site D, from northeast.

The investigation of the earliest Early Bronze II city started from its fortification wall, which was detected all around the tell. Works in the area of the spring, moreover, showed that the latter had been included within the urban limits since this period. The northeastern dwelling quarter was reexamined, with a number of storage installations (silos, mudbrick-lined cists, storerooms) for accumulation of agricultural surplus. The ceramic repertoire of this phase shows specialization of shapes and wares. The effects of the violent earthquake which brought to a sudden end the Early Bronze II city were identified in several spots, and this catastrophic event was studied as a factor prompting a further development of building techniques and social organization.

The Early Bronze Age III city was vigorously reconstructed with widened and strengthened city walls. The double-line fortification system of Early Bronze III was investigated in several spots, documenting the construction and stratigraphic phases of the double city walls. A postern gate was identified leading to the rooms between the inner and outer walls. Another gate in Area B collapsed due to a fierce fire at the end of Early Bronze III. Inside this passage, the carbonized wooden support beams of the roofing were found.

A major piece of evidence from this period was Palace G, a huge building uncovered on three terraces on the eastern flank of the Spring Hill. The palace had a central wing with a hall, characterized by a raised podium and a central pillar, and several subsidiary rooms with staircases and installations. In the lower terraces, there were storerooms connected with a major entrance opening towards the spring, while on the upper terrace there were workshops and installations. In one of the lower storerooms of the palace a copper dagger was found, preserving part of the wooden handle with its leather revetment. Storage jars (some bearing cylinder seal impressions), as well as cult vessels (one with a bull’s head spout), were also found in the palace. Not far away, on the western side of the Spring Hill, the city temple flanked by a round raised platform probably stood.

Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho, Area B: EB IIIA (2700-2500 BC) South Gate L.1800, aside the cut of Kenyon’s Trench III, filled up with collapsed mudbricks and burnt beams.

Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho, Area B: EB IIIA (2700-2500 BC) South Gate L.1800, aside the cut of Kenyon’s Trench III, filled up with collapsed mudbricks and burnt beams.

Early Bronze III private houses were excavated in Area F. The urban layout of the northeastern quarter of the city, with a SW-NE street was reconstructed. Small finds from these houses illustrated daily life in the Canaanean centre: basalt grinding stones and grinders, copper and stone tools, pierced seashells, pottery disks, and especially balance weights hint at exchange and tolling activities. Pottery was characterized by wares and shapes, functional standardization and by the attestation of Khirbet Kerak Ware, both imported and locally produced, which diminished in the mature phase of the period (Early Bronze IIIB). Material culture of this period illustrates the apogee of the Early Bronze Age city, including Egyptian items (marble mace heads, schist palettes, and ceramic lotus vases) and metal objects (a crescent-shaped copper axe from Tomb A114).

The Early Bronze III city was ruinously destroyed during the twenty-fourth century BC and abandoned after this dramatic conflagration. Evidence of such an event was uncovered in all of the excavated areas of the site and presumably deeply impressed the collective memory of Levantine peoples, perhaps to the point of being included into Biblical narrative of Joshua.

Detail of the collapse inside the gate: note the carbonized wooden door lintel visible at the bottom of the passage.

Detail of the collapse inside the gate: note the carbonized wooden door lintel visible at the bottom of the passage.

The nonurban interval: Early Bronze IV (2300–2000 BC)

Excavations also provided new data on the nonurban interval of the Early Bronze IV. The site was reoccupied in the Early Bronze IVA starting from the summit of the Spring Hill, and expanding into a huge village on the lower terraces over the collapsed ruins of previous fortifications in the following Early Bronze IVB. The relationship between the site and the necropolis was also investigated. Cultural, economic, and social features of the interred show both local and new elements. A relevant point was the study of metal items, made for the first time of bronze alloy, as well as that of pottery and architecture characterized by thin walls of a single row of bricks and stones.

The Cananean city-state of second millennium BC: Ruha

During the twentieth century BC, at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age, the city of Jericho was reconstructed, starting from its massive fortifications. These initially consisted of a solid mudbrick wall with rectangular towers, soon reinforced all around the summit of the mound by an earthen rampart. The Italian-Palestinian Expedition explored both the earliest city wall and three successive ramparts, and identified a solidly built structure made of limestone boulders supporting the Middle Bronze II rampart on the southwestern side of the site. A major monument of the Middle Bronze I–II city was Tower A1, a defensive building connected with a fortress or a gate. It was preserved to a height of more than 2 m and was carefully built with regular mudbricks laid on a monumental foundation made of orthostatic blocks. This structure was refurbished several times following enemy attacks and at least a major earthquake.

Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho: general view of EB IIIB (2500-2350 BC) Palace G on the Spring Hill, from south.

Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho: general view of EB IIIB (2500-2350 BC) Palace G on the Spring Hill, from south.

A main stratigraphic and chronological turning point was presumably Pharaoh Amenemhat III’s campaign which apparently also involved Jericho. At that time the site bore the Canaanean name of “Ruha”, as a suggested by a scarab found in a built up tomb discovered on the Spring Hill underneath the Middle Bronze Age Palace (called the “Hyksos Palace” by John Garstang, who excavated at Jericho from 1930 to 1936). The third and last reconstruction of the Middle Bronze Age city was characterized by the erection of a huge rubble rampart supported by terrace walls and, at its bottom, by a battering Cyclopean Wall, brought to light with its collapsed mudbrick superstructure (a reuse possibly dated to the Iron II) around the southern base of the tell.

Also in this period the Spring Hill was the city centre. On the eastern flank of it stood the Palace of the Canaanean rulers, while just southwest, on the highest point, a monumental tower temple arose (Area P).

Middle Bronze II houses were excavated by the Expedition in Areas A and T, at the southwestern corner of the tell, while a full reexamination of the Middle Bronze Age necropolis was also accomplished, cataloging items that were spread worldwide in many institutions. A distinguished Middle Bronze II context was excavated in Area E. Inside the Curvilinear Stone Structure a destruction layer preserved interesting items including the clay figurine of a lioness.

The Middle Bronze III city was the object of a violent military destruction, which reduced the role of the site and left a heap of ruins in the place of the city, definitely marking Jericho as an emblematic ruin in collective imaginary.

Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho: axonometric reconstruction of EB IIIB Palace G.

Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho: axonometric reconstruction of EB IIIB Palace G.

Jericho in the Iron Age

Iron Age remains were excavated on the tell summit and also at its southern foot, where an Iron Age IIC installation was brought to light in 2011. Remains are too sparse to be easily placed into a coherent picture. The main building, the so-called “Hilani” of the German excavations from 1907 to 1909, was on the eastern flank of the Spring Hill, its deep foundation walls set into previous Early Bronze and Middle Bronze Age palaces. Long staircases on the northern and southwestern sides of the tell allowed access up to the city, which stood on top of an impressive heap of ruins formed by the superimposed settlements and cities from the Neolithic to Bronze Age Periods. Jericho was still an important city especially for political powers controlling Transjordan (Moab, but also Ammon and Edom), giving access to Palestine, as well as for nomads tribes fluttering from the Wadi ‘Arabah to the Jordan Valley and beyond. Material culture of this period reflects the many cultures interacting in the Jordan Valley.

The joint Expedition for the Archaeological Park of the Jericho Oasis

The Pilot Project has been carried out for 17 years, with difficulties and successes shared by Italian and Palestinian students and archaeologists. Working jointly was a goal. So too was rehabilitating Tell es-Sultan, with its invaluable record of human heritage, and to protect the site and make it easy for tourists and visitors to interpret. The accomplishment of these goals has led, beginning in 2014, to a further stage of the joint Project: the implementation of the Archaeological Park including the other sites of the Jericho Oasis, starting with the Spring of ‘Ain es-Sultan. The creation of an urban park will contribute to preserve the 103 archaeological sites catalogued by the Expedition in the oasis, and will enhance tourism and economy of the modern city of Ariha.


Lorenzo Nigro is Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at Rome “La Sapienza” University –
Director with Dr. Hamdan Taha of the Italian-Palestinian Expedition to Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho (www.lasapienzatojericho.it)

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3 Comments for : Tell Es-Sultan – A Pilot Project for Archaeology in Palestine
    • Cornelis
    • March 18, 2014
    Reply

    I don’t understand how is it possible that they are working in Palestine? Palestine does not exist, because that is Jordan.
    That pilot project is of course in Israel. that is the right way to explain this, I think the writer of this paper, Kaitlyn made a little mistake. Well excuses accepted.
    Shalom Israel

    • seemyart
    • March 18, 2014
    Reply

    by “palestine” is the author referring to Israel? there is no “palestine”. palestinian archaeology would be a joke, as all non muslim artifacts would immediately be destroyed!

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