Jericho and the changing ideology of a Neolithic Society

jericho aggsbach PPNABThis is a small axe from Jericho (PPNA or PPNB; 7×1,8×1,8 cm).

Jericho (Tell es-Sultan) is the name of a tell situated on an ancient lake bed plain  in the Jordan valley in what is now is known as the West Bank, Palestine. The oval tell has between 8 and 12 meters of occupation fill, and it covers an area of about 2.5 hectares. The city that the tell represents is one of oldest continuously occupied (more or less) locations on the planet which dates back to at least as early as the Natufian period, presumably deriving its early prosperity from the proximity of the Ain es-Sultan, an abundant source of water for irrigation purposes.

The subsequent phases at Jericho provide a good basis for the study of the early PPNA (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A), when Jericho was an unusually substantial settlement, as well as the later Aceramic Neolithic (Pre-Pottery Neolithic B), the Pottery Neolithic and the Bronze Age. The Natufian and Proto-Neolithic levels provide crucial evidence of the gradual development of agriculture; although there was poor recovery of environmental data compared with more other investigated sites such as Ain Ghazal.

PPNA Jericho exhibits roofed, oval semi-subterranean dwellings and the construction of a first wall which may indicate that violence and conflict were important parts of Jericho’s history during this time. Early Neolithic Jericho (PPNA) also includes an iconic archaeological structure. Among typically domestic structures, on the western edge of the site, a unique tower was found, made of undressed stone with a staircase built inside, internally and externally plastered. It is 8.25m tall, conical, connected to an adjacent wall half its height. It is in many respects a unique and enigmatic structure, at the centre of debate ever since its discovery. It has been interpreted as a fortification, an anti-flooding system, a ritual centre and a political symbol of communal power and territorial claim (

Other important features of Jericho, during the PPNB are plastered skulls, human skulls on which faces have been modeled in plaster and then buried beneath floor houses. Plastered skulls are a known trait from other PPNB sites, such as Kfar HaHoresh, Beidha and the cave site of Nahal Hemar ( ).

During the PPNA, the Near East underwent significant changes on economical, ideological and technical life; these changes are what J. Cauvin called the “Neolithisation”. The tower and wall were at Jericho were the first architecture excavated and indicative of communal activity during the Neolithic with a monumental character. These discoveries were followed only 40 years later by other exciting discoveries, all dated to the 10th millennium BC. 

Some examples: During PPNA circular multi-purpose community buildings, discovered at both Tell el Jerf el Ahmar and Tell el Mureybet, suggest a well-developed social organization, with remarkable community activities. At Jerf el Ahmar the earliest of three successive, subterranean ‘community buildings’, which the excavator suggests was used both as a granary and for ceremonies. At the end of its use-life, a headless corpse was placed in the centre of the floor, the posts and roof were burnt, and the cavity was filled in. 

Göbekli Tepe is a tell, about 15km north-east of the Turkish city of Sanlıurfa, at the highest point of an extended mountain range. It is an artificial mound dating to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. Contrary to the sites on the Euphrates, It was not used for habitation; it consists of several sanctuaries in the form of round megalithic enclosures. (

Another type of communal and monumental structure from the earliest Neolithic in western Asia was recently found at Wadi Faynan and interpreted as a  ritualized gathering place (

 All these new elements, that arose during the PPNA indicate a new way of thinking and a new cosmology shared by the sedentary communities: 

“With these new cognitive and cultural faculties, people began to construct and inhabit dramatic built environments. Within these rich cultural environments, they could maintain social memory through ‘commemorative ceremonies’ and ‘bodily acts’), in domestic rituals, in community buildings, in ceremonies with the bodies and heads of the dead, affirming a communal identity of place. These were the first ‘imagined communities’, but, unlike modern nations, they could be formed and maintained without social hierarchies of power (Trevor Watkins;”.

At Jericho, in common with most of the rest of the Levant, the stratigraphy indicates a gap of about 300-500 years between the end of the Aceramic Neolithic and the emergence of the Pottery Neolithic, presumably as a result of the impact of a drastic climatic change disrupting the subsistence and settlement pattern.

By the Late Bronze Age the city had regained its prosperity and became an important Canaanite city. Little evidence has survived to cast and direct light on the well-known Biblical siege of the city when it was captured from the Canaanites by Joshua and the Israelites.

After the Late Bronze Age, Jericho was no longer much of a center, but continued to be occupied on a small scale, and ruled by Babylonians, Persian Empire, Roman Empire, Byzantine and Ottoman Empire, on and on until the present day.

About the PPNA:

About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome! About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University. Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.
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