Prehistoric Jericho

By Tim Lambert

Jericho is the oldest walled town in the world. Its walls were first built around 8,000 BC – just after the start of agriculture. (Jericho has had many walls throughout its long history and several different cultures have lived there). Before Jericho was founded people lived by hunting and also gathering wild grains. However, Jericho is sited on a spring, and that enabled people to grow crops of wheat and barley. They may have also irrigated their crops.


The first walls around Jericho were about 2 meters thick at the bottom (we don’t know exactly how tall they were) and they were made of boulders laid edge to edge without mortar. Jericho was also protected by a tower, which is about 4.5 meters in diameter at the bottom. Neolithic Jericho also had a trench dug out of the solid rock to protect it.

Neolithic Jericho probably had a population of about 2,000-3,000 many of whom would have been part-time soldiers. They would have fought with spears and bows and arrows.

Jericho must have been wealthy for its people to build such fortifications, the first in the world. Most of its people would have lived by growing crops although they also hunted animals.

The People of Jericho

When the first walls were built about 8,000 BC pottery had not been invented so bowls were made of stone. Food was cooked in clay ovens. The people of Jericho knew how to make sun-dried bricks and they used them to make houses.

About 7,000 BC new people lived in Jericho and they had learned to make mortar. They used it to plaster walls and floors. About 6,000 BC they built a new wall around the town. Furthermore, the people of Jericho traded with their neighbors. Stones found in Neolithic Jericho came from as far away as Turkey showing that long-distance trade was already established.

Before 6,000 BC the people of Jericho also kept skulls in shrines. The skulls had plaster ‘faces’ added to them to make them look lifelike and they had cowrie shells in their eye sockets. We do not know why these plastered skulls were made. The people of Jericho may have practiced some form of ancestor worship but we will never know.

After 6,000 BC Jericho was abandoned for hundreds of years but it was occupied again by 5,000 BC. By 4,000 BC people had learned to use bronze and by 3,000 BC writing was invented. The prehistoric period of Jericho came to an end.

Last revised 2024

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