Supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs    
Tell es-Sultan/Jericho
Season 2012
THE EIGHTH SEASON (2012) OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES AT TELL ES-SULTAN/ANCIENT JERICHO,
BY ROME "LA SAPIENZA" UNIVERSITY AND THE PALESTINIAN MOTA-DACH

0. Introduction


The eighth season of archaeological activities at Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho (fig. 1), in Palestine, carried out by Rome "La Sapienza" University and the Palestinian Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage (MOTA - DACH), took place in March 2012 and was supported by the former Institutions and by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Established aims of the eighth season included:

1. further study of the site in all periods through archaeological investigations (§§ 1-5);
2. salvage works in the Spring Area (§ 6);
3. continuation of site rehabilitation through systematic restorations of the EB IIIB (Sultan IIIc2, 2500-2350 BC) public building in Area G, and Building B1 in Area B, and restoration tests on MB I-II (Sultan IVa-b, 1900-1650 BC) Tower A1 in Area A (§ 7);
4. tourist enhancement of the site through implementation of visitors' paths and setting of new explanatory panels with updated information in several spots of the site (§ 7).

As regards the first point, excavations were carried out in five different areas: Area A, where investigations focused on MB I-II (Sultan IVa-b, 1900-1650 BC) stratigraphy west of Tower A1, MB III (Sultan IVc, 1650-1550 BC) Cyclopean Wall W.4 and related rampart, and on a PPNB installation (§ 1); Area B-West, with an extension of the probe in the blind room in between EB IIIA (Sultan IIIc1, 2700-2500 BC) Inner and Outer City-Wall (§ 2); Area P, on the north-western hilltop of the southern mound, where remains of a monumental structure were uncovered (§ 3); Area G, on the eastern slope of the Spring Hill, where a further portion of EB IIIB (Sultan IIIc2) Palace G was uncovered (§ 4); Area T, at the southeastern foot of the tell, where the modern road cut through the ancient settlement, underneath the demolished building of the Tourism Police (§ 5).

1. Area A: MB I-II (Sultan IVa-b, 1900-1650 BC) stratigraphy west of Tower A1, MB III (Sultan IVc, 1650-1550 BC) Cyclopean Wall and rampart, PPNB (Sultan Ic) round enclosure

The major aim of season 2012 in Area A was to collect further data on the earliest Middle Bronze layers in the Lower City, at the southern foot of the tell (fig. 2). What was deemed interesting is the dating of the erection and use of Tower A1 (Marchetti - Nigro 1998, 124-135; 2000, 199-207; Nigro 2006a, 26, 33; Nigro - Taha 2009, 731-734), the monumental structure built up at the bottom of the tell at the beginning of the MB sequence, possibly part of the earliest defensive system of the Canaanite city Jericho in the early 2nd millennium BC (§ 1.1). This datum was also connected with new information gathered in Area T, illustrating the extension of the MB Lower City (see below § 5). The study of Cyclopean Wall W.4 (§ 1.2), the megalithic structure supporting inside the MB III rubble rampart, was also connected to the same topic, with the deliberated obliteration of the Lower City in the last stage of life of the Middle Bronze city. Soundings underneath the foundation wall of Tower A1 reached PPNB layers, where an curvilinear installation was partly excavated (§ 1.3).

1.1. Middle Bronze stratigraphic sequence of Area A and the foundation of Tower A1

A spot was selected in square AqIV12, where thanks to the foundation trench (P.1677) of Cyclopean Wall W.4, it was possible to investigate layers directly cut by orthostatic wall W.1659 (P.1687), i.e. the monumental foundation of Tower A1. Here strata F.1652 (MB IB destruction) and F.1761 (MB I leveling layer) were fully excavated. The latter is the earliest layer of Middle Bronze Age in Area A, directly overlying PPNB strata. It yielded pottery fragments dating back from an advanced MB I phase (19th century BC), thus providing a chronological reference for the foundation and earliest use of Tower A1 (Nigro - Taha 2009, 731-734; Nigro - Sala - Taha - Yassine 2011, 187-191). The first destruction of such a monument, documented by destruction layers F.1652 + F.1689 might be attributed to an Egyptian military intervention (Amenemhat III?). The second destruction of Tower A1, during the MB II, was investigated in square AqIV13 by digging layer F.1768 (= F.1688 excavated in season 2010), which gave back pottery sherds dating from Middle Bronze II (c. 1730-1700 BC).

1.2. Building technique of Cyclopean Wall W.4 and the abandonment of the MB Lower City

The building technique of MB III Cyclopean Wall W.4 (Kenyon's Wall NFK, NGJ, NGK; Sellin - Watzinger 1913, 54-62; Kenyon 1981, 215-219, pls. 125b, 127, 271b-273, 274f; Marchetti - Nigro 1998, 135-154; 2000, 217-218; Nigro 2006a, 34-35; Nigro - Taha 2009, 734), was further investigated in the eighth season (2012), examining its foundation trench (P.1677). Big blocks were thrown into the trench, filled up with earth at each course of stones, and they were rolled inside the wall, tying them up with limestone scales and mud mortar. The wall section shows that it had a slightly curve profile gradually turning inside in the upper layers. The largest blocks were displaced around 1.5 m from the buried bottom of the structure, apparently to provide a firmer support to the upper part of the wall (up to 5-8 m high). It has again to be stressed that the wall, with its foundation trench, was not to be seen, being buried within the rubble rampart. This was especially evident in the eastern section of the area, where the MB III rubble is clearly visible filling up a series of MB II houses, arisen east and north of Tower A1 in Middle Bronze II (Marchetti - Nigro 2000, 194-195, 207-216; Nigro 2006a, 33). Its principal function was to support and constrain the huge earthen mass of superimposed settlements constituting the core of the tell itself.

1.3. The PPNB round enclosure in AqIV12

The removal of layer F.1671, i.e. the earliest MB layer so far identified in the area of Tower A1, brought to light a curvilinear structure (W.1789), made of medium and big sized stones set as headers and stretchers and of two rows of greenish-yellow mud-bricks of elongated shape built up with an inner filling of small stones (figs. 3-5). Two big water-polished limestone boulders (W.1798 and W.1782), one of which of regular parallelepiped shape (W.1798), were the jambs of an entrance (L.1797) to a round enclosure (L.1790). Inside this door, a flat stone was embedded into the ground, while west of jamb W.1782, the structure consisted of stones - one of noticeable dimensions and with an slightly concave inner northern face- and of bricks and mud again of a distinguished greenish-yellow colour. The only finds from the enclosure were two flints, retrieved outside the structure in layer F.1799. However, the sounding excavated in 2010 against the southern face of Cyclopean Wall W.4, actually, was just a few centimeters north of the enclosure, and the uppermost layers excavated in this sounding can be considered different floors of it (L.1696 and L.1697; Nigro - Sala - Taha - Yassine 2011, 191-192). The scarcity of finds might suggest that this enclosure was used as pen for sheep and goats.

The round enclosure can be dated to PPNB, and it has a striking comparison in a roughly circular structure excavated in Kenyon's Square MI (Kenyon 1981, 238-244, pls. 135b, 281c-284). It testifies to the southern extension of the PPNB settlement, already excavated by Kenyon on the southern side of the tell in Trench III, just north of MB III Cyclopean Wall W.4 (= Kenyon's Wall NFK, NGJ, NGK; Kenyon 1981, 175-176, 181-191, pls. 113-118, 263b-c, 264, 273).

The width of the wall varies from 0.3 to 0.5 m and it exhibits a mixed building technique, with large stones, elongated mudbricks, small stones, possibly wooden branches, etc.

2. Area B and B-West: the blind room inside the Inner and Outer EB IIIA City-Walls

During the eighth season (2012) archaeological activities in Area B and B-West were basically concentrated in a refurbishing of EB IIIB (Sultan IIIc2, 2500-2350 BC) Building B1 (Marchetti - Nigro 1998, 39-49; 2000, 130-138; Nigro 2006a, 18-20.), by coating the original mudbrick structures with traditional mud and straw plaster, protecting walls bottoms with courses of new mudbricks, and repairing fences (fig. 6).

In Area B-West, the sounding in the blind room (L.54) in between the EB IIIA (Sultan IIIc1, 2700-2500 BC) Main Inner Wall (W.2) and Outer Wall (W.56; Marchetti - Nigro 1998, 89-91, fig. 1:35; Nigro 2006a, 9, 18; 2006b, 361-375) in square AoIV5 (excavated in 2009; Nigro - Taha 2009, 738-739), was extended to the west, up to the line where the EB IIIA structures were cleared off by the rubble filling (F.1604) of the MB III rampart. In the latter layer, a magnificent PPNA flint adze (TS.12.B.43) was found (fig. 7). The pulverized clayish sandy marl filling (F.1608) inside room L.54 was excavated in the whole room down to elevation 9.69 m. A sample of the soil was taken away for particulate matter analysis.

3. Area P: remains of the MB II-III building on the south-western mound

The Spring Hill, overlooking 'Ain es-Sultan and the surrounding oasis, was since the deepest past the focus of the ancient city of Jericho, and, for this reason, it was cut through by trenches and extensively investigated by archaeologists: E. Sellin and C. Watzinger (at its northern edge, and on its top and western slope; Sellin - Watzinger 1913, plan I), and K.M. Kenyon (on the top [Site L; Kenyon 1981, 375, fig. 1] and on its eastern slope [Squares HII/III/VI; Kenyon 1981, 339-371, fig. 1]), as well as Garstang (on its south-eastern slope; Garstang 1933, 41-42; 1934, 99-134) and, nowadays, after the removal of a double stratification of dump fillings (Garstang's and Kenyon's filling up Sellin and Watzinger excavations), also by the Italian-Palestinian Expedition (Nigro - Sala - Taha - Yassine 2011, 199-206). Nonetheless, there was another major peak in the central area of the tell, slightly shifted to the south-west, well visible in the earliest topographic map of the site (Sellin - Watzinger 1913, fig. 1 [Sq. I4; elev. 18.10]). This was the north-western hilltop of the southern mound. It was only partially investigated by the German Expedition, which dug an east-west trench on its northern slope and traced the outer face of the Main Inner Wall along its western side. On the southern slope of this peak, Garstang excavated the same archaeological features in his trench r-r' (Garstang 1931, 191-192, fig. 3, pl. I; 1932, 9). Successively, he dumped over the southern slope of the hilltop material discharged from his trench e-e' (Garstang 1930, 130-131, pls. I, X; 1931, 190-191, pls. III-IV). During rehabilitation works in the eighth season (2012), a stone structure emerging from a denudation slope suggested to open Area P just upon this spot of the site, i.e. the north-western hilltop of the southern mound (fig. 8).

The area was investigated over an extension of six squares (Ap-r/III12-13) bringing to light a wide stone platform (W.1400), buried underneath a layer of erosion (F.1403), which provided some MB II-III pottery shapes. This structure, 12 m long on the west-east axis, and 2.4 m wide on the north-south one, was made of medium sized stones set on a layer of regularized collapsed reddish-brown bricks (fig. 9). Such a platform might be interpreted as the substructure of a foundation wall running east-west, with its inner southern inner face still identifiable, and the outer northern one largely collapsed and eroded. Around 1 m far away from the preserved western edge of the structure, two big stones suggest that here was an inner corner of the wall, linking it with a transversal structure, some remains of which were uncovered in square ApIV13. Here, the central portion of an east-west wall (W.1401), made of huge blocks and stones of dimensions identical to those employed in W.1400, was in facts identified, which had been heavily plundered on its western side. A big orthostat (W.1402), possibly belonging to a major installation within this wall (a bench or a niche), was found turned up. A third large block was visible further south (W.1405), where a second possible main wall of the building, parallel and symmetrical to W.1400, could be hypothesized, nowadays buried under a 3 m high mound of dump created by Garstang. These remains suggested a reconstruction of the building incorporating wall W.1400, wall W.1401+W.1402 and wall W.1405 as a huge structure around 12 m long on the east-west axis and 10 m on the north-south one, with two major side walls of which W.1400 is the northern one, and a rear wall represented by W.1401. The plan of such a building, its stratigraphical setting, and its location on the central hilltop of the site suggest that it was a major component of the MB II-III city, located just aside the palace (which was only around 20 m north-east of Area P).

4. Area G: EB IIIB (Sultan IIIc2, 2500-2350 BC) Palace G: plans and Spring Hill phasing

The eighth season (2012) in Area G - the third after resuming investigation in this area on the eastern slope of the Spring Hill in 2010 - was devoted to a further enlargement of the excavated portion of Palace G (Nigro 2006a, 20-22, figs. 29-32; 2009a, 50, fig. 6; Nigro - Sala - Taha - Yassine 2011, 199-206), with the aim of definitely connecting its monumental structures with those excavated by Kenyon in her Square HII (Kenyon 1981, 343-345, pls. 326-327b; fig. 10). The southern halves of squares BcIII6 and BdIII6 were thus excavated, also extending the archaeological investigation to the lower terrace east of wall W.637 and underneath MB wall W.633. In the meantime, wall W.637 was carefully restored with antike-like bricks and reversible mud mortar. It resulted to be a massive structure 1.5 m wide and 15 m long, marking a step of around 1.2 m between the medium and lower terraces of the palace.

In the newly excavated squares, under an uppermost layer of modern erosion, there were the two superimposed dumps of Kenyon's (F.1152) and Garstang's (F.1154) excavations, the latter one consisting of reddish-brown friable soil with a large quantity of big stones and blocks inside (probably deriving from the dismantling by Garstang of Iron II Hilani and Late Bronze II Middle Building; Garstang 1934, 102-108, pls. XIII-XV; Garstang - Garstang 1948, 118-120, 147-148), and the former one, instead, mainly consisting of a soft dark grey ashy soil, with small stones and debris lens. Underneath, the abandonment/collapse layer (F.1204) of Palace G appeared north of wall W.1163. It covered a further east-west mudbrick structure, W.1203, consisting of a 1 + ½ brick-wide (0.66 m) wall, delimiting with two transversal structures (W.1207 to the west - the prosecution of W.1157, and W.1211 to the east) a small chamber (1.1 x 0.8), a light well or a staircase (L.1212). North of wall W.1203 there was another rectangular room, L.1210, the northern limit of which remained unexplored (fig. 11). The latter room was filled up with destruction layer F.1208, which gave back a set of EB IIIB pottery.

The northernmost stretch of wall W.637, lying in square BdIII6, was preserved at a higher elevation in respect of the already excavated part of this structure: more than 1 m upon the stone foundation (top elevation 12.26). The latter (W.1209) consisted of two-three courses of medium and big stones, with pale reddish-brown mudbrick over it. On the eastern face of the wall, a strip of original plaster was preserved, consisting of whitish lime coated over multiple strata of mud mortar (fig. 12).

Palace G, as far as it has been explored, was built at least on three different terraces on the eastern flank of the Spring Hill (figs. 10, 12). The upper terrace hosted a series of rooms with working installations and staircases; the central terrace was occupied by a forecourt (L.1200) and the reception suite L.644 with a podium, as well as by a series of secondary rooms (L.1160, with a round platform and two niches, yielded a cult vessel); finally, the lower terrace, was wider than the two previous ones and extended further to the north in Kenyon's Square HII (here, in the preserved part excavated in 2011, a copper dagger was discovered in L.1190).

Architecture, dimensions and finds from Palace G testify to the public function of this building, which was characterized by the imposing volumes of its walls, supporting at least two or three stories, as a series of staircases and several wooden beams retrieved carbonized in the destruction fillings demonstrate.

5. Area T: MB remains at the south-eastern foot of the tell and sounding down to PPN layers

Modern building activities just on the rear side of the Presentation Centre at the entrance of the site, and along the modern road cutting through Tell es-Sultan on its eastern side, made it necessary to carry on a salvage excavation underneath the demolished building of the Tourism Police. Two squares separated by a 0.5 m wide baulk were excavated (fig. 13), respectively measuring 4 x 4.5 m the northern one (Square TI) and 4 x 5 m the southern one (Square TII).

Excavations in Square TI offered a picture of the eastern slope of the tell facing the area crossed by the road introducing into the core of the site itself: the Spring and the Spring Hill overlooking it. The tell flank was steep, and underwent heavy movements of earth even in recent times (a consequence of Garstang's excavations in the '30ies of the past century: Garstang 1932, 9-12, 15-17), as it was shown by huge superimposed fillings. In the western section of the probe, layers were lying in a gentle north-south slope. Apart from a pit in the northwestern corner (P.1323), underneath an uppermost thick layer of erosion (F.1301), a series of mixed fillings, including basically rubble and disaggregated broken mudbricks, possibly represent the gradual dismantling of the MB III monumental rampart and overlying Iron Age structures. However, the Cyclopean Wall supporting such defense work was not identified in Square TI, even though a deep sounding 2 x 2 m was excavated in the northern corner of the square (figs. 14-15). At the bottom of the sounding a heap of big blocks and stones (one 0.5 x 0.4 m) was uncovered (W.1327), possibly collapsed from a major stone structure. They were lying upon an earthen flooring (L.1330) at elevation - 4.9 m, which also represents the razed top of a compact dark greenish-brown clayey-sandy layer, including small charcoals and marl nodes (F.1328), which belongs to the PPNB horizon.

In the eastern half of the probe fillings F.1301 and F.1302 were cut by a pit (P.1317) with an E-W orientation, and a whitish gravel filling (F.1309). This stratum was related to the later Hellenistic and Roman occupation of the foot of the tell (it also included Iron IIC materials).

A bronze toggle pin was found in F.1302 (TS.12.T.22; fig. 16). It shows a central hole, and an incised decoration, consisting of circles. Its type is attested to in MB II contexts, as it is shown by some specimens from tombs (Kenyon's Tomb Groups II-IV; Kenyon 1960, figs. 165:4, 177:12, 14; 1965, figs. 114:14, 174:16).

In Square TII (fig. 17), underneath the layer of erosion (F.1303), a major structure was brought to light, i.e. the corner of a building east-west oriented, with an inner floor made of beaten earth and crushed limestone grits (L.1310). The very corner of this building had actually been destroyed by the cut of the gravel filling (see above; P.1317, here F.1311); the removed stones of this wall were accumulated inside the pit (W.1315). The eastern wall (W.1305) of the building was made of regular medium-size stones set into two curtains, with an inner filling of smaller stones; it consisted of at least three superimposed courses. A group of regularized stones (W.1318), displaced on the outer eastern curtain of the wall (two stretchers bordered by two headers) possibly indicate a reinforcement of the structure. To the south a regular block was inserted into the wall serving as pillar (W.1329). A bench or a step made of two bricks (W.1319) flanked the eastern face of this wall, leaning against it. The northern wall (W.1307) of the building, instead, was made of medium-size stones of regular shape, and was preserved up to three courses of stones. A few ceramic materials found inside the structure on floor L.1310 (F.1306) and outside it to the south, on floor L.1320 (F.1308) suggest a dating in the MB II.

The north-eastern-half of the probe was occupied by a 1 m deep layer of fine gravel (F.1311) mixed with reddish brown soil, including Iron Age IIC, Hellenistic and Roman materials; the latter stratum, as stated above, cut through the north-east corner of Building L.1310 (P.1317). In the eastern section of the dig, a heap of stones was visible belonging to another collapsed structure (W.1313) apparently extending NE-SW.

The presence of Building L.1310 in Square TII confirms the extension of the MB II Lower City in the area all around the Spring, east and south (Area A) of the tell itself. Moreover, Iron IIC, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine material also indicate that this area of the site was continuously occupied due to its location aside the main road crossing the city and the Spring.

6. Salvage works in the Spring Area Restoration and refurbishing activities carried out by the Ariha Municipality in the area of the Spring ('Ain es-Sultan) in year 2012 involved the Ottoman Pool and the nearby mills (Nigro - Sala - Taha eds. 2011, 110-113, sites cat. 21-22). An area of around 150 sqm was explored in a very fast and cursory way. Nonetheless, some impressive features were uncovered and documented. A cut against the south-eastern curve wall of the pool exposed the vertical stratigraphic section against which the monument was erected (fig. 18). Ceramic material from the Bronze Age onward was recovered.

Around 15 m to the south, the foundation of a major building (a tower?) made of carefully worked blocks (Herodian?) was uncovered, partly overlapped by a later structure (Byzantine?), characterized by bricks inclusions. These walls were further re-employed as substructure of the aqueduct connected with the Ottoman mills (other refurbishing were also visible in its front view; fig. 19). Just underneath this wall a vaulted channel, built with carefully hewn blocks, was discovered, representing a major feature of the hydraulic system of the Spring during the Roman Period. It gathered fresh water in a square pool (a "castellum aquae"), from which other channels with canal locks started.

7. Restoration and tourist enhancement of Tell es-Sultan

Tell es-Sultan is up today the most visited Archaeological Park of Palestine. Up to four hundred thousand people visit it a year, and the new tourist path with illustrative panels set up in year 2009-2012 by the Italian-Palestinian Expedition made it readable to the general public (fig. 20). It, however, deserves continuous maintenance, and during the 2012 season several interventions of repairing fences, cleaning (in Area A, B, B-West, E, Q), restoration (Areas B and G), and tourist enhancement were carried on. The major effort was performed in Palace G on the Spring Hill, where the building structures were restored with traditional technique of plastered mudbricks (fig. 21). Also Building B1 was restored, by coating original mudbricks with traditional mud and straw plaster and protecting walls bottoms with courses of new mudbricks.

8. Conclusions: Jericho, 10.000 years of History of Humankind

The 2012 season provided new data on the Early Bronze Age city, bringing to light a further portion of EB IIIB Palace G on the Spring Hill (Area G), and the Middle Bronze Age city, especially regarding the MB IB dating of the foundation of Tower A1 (Area A), the presence of a monumental structure on the north-western hilltop of the southern mound (Area P) in front of the Spring Hill, as well as the extension of the MB II Lower City all around the southern (Area A) and eastern foot of the tell (Area T), including the area of the Spring. Moreover, a round enclosure identified in Area A underneath Tower A1, offered a further insight into the PPNB settlement. Finally, works in the Spring area revealed important features and hydraulic installations from the Herodian to the Ottoman period, including a monumental vaulted channel, and testifying the continuous occupation of the area supplied by the Spring of 'Ain es-Sultan from the Prehistoric up to the modern times.

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1913    Jericho. Die Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen (= Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichung der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft 22), Leipzig 1913.

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