Was this Jericho tower the world’s first skyscraper?

Many who have visited Tell es-Sultan, the site of Old Testament Jericho, have been amazed at the tower built on the inside of the city wall. The tower was uncovered during the excavation by Kathleen Kenyon in 1952-1958. Kenyon dated the tower to the Neolithic period, about 7000 B.C. The current material makes the tower 11,000 years old, but the entry by Kenyon in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, gives the date of 7000 B.C.)

Holland describes the tower:

On the West side of the town in Trench I, the first town wall was associated with a large stone-built tower situated against its inner side, 8.5 meters in diameter [almost 28 feet] at the base with a surviving height of 7.75 meters [about 25½ feet]. The construction of the tower was solid except in the center, which had a staircase providing access to the top from the interior of the town. — The Anchor Bible Dictionary 3:727

A photo suitable for use in teaching is available by clicking on the image. This tower is definitely in need of cleaning and restoration.

The Tower excavated by K. Kenyon at Jericho. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Tower excavated by K. Kenyon at Jericho. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Kenyon thought the tower served some defensive purpose. A new computer analysis study by two Israeli archaeologist, Ran Barkai and Ron Liran, has led to the conclusion that when the tower “was built the nearby mountains cast a shadow on it as the sun sets on the longest day of the year.” They say, “The shadow fell exactly on the structure and then spread out to cover the entire village.”

A brief article in the The Jerusalem Post says,

The world’s first skyscraper was built by early farmers, who were frightened into erecting a solar marker by mankind’s early bosses, archaeologists say.

Long before its Biblical walls came tumbling down, Jericho’s residents were being enticed to give up hunting and gathering and start farming for a living. They settled in this oasis next to the Jordan River and built a mysterious 8.5-meter (28-foot) stone tower on the edge of town.

When discovered by archaeologists in 1952, it was dated at over 11,000 years old, making it the first and oldest public building even found. But its purpose and the motivation for erecting it has been debated ever since.

Now, using computer technology, Israeli archaeologists are saying it was built to mark the summer solstice and as a symbol that would entice people to abandon their nomadic ways and settle down.

“The tower was constructed by a major building effort. People were working for a very long time and very hard. It was not like the other domestic buildings in Jericho,” said Ran Barkai of the Department of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, who was part of a team that did the computer analysis.

The stone tower is about nine meters in diameter at its base and conical in shape. Built out of concentric rows of the stones, it also contains an enclosed stairway. Archeologists say it wasn’t used as a tomb.

Barkai and fellow archaeologist Roy Liran used computers to reconstruct sunsets and found that when the tower was built the nearby mountains cast a shadow on it as the sun set on the longest day of the year. The shadow fell exactly on the structure and then spread out to cover the entire village.

The complete article may be read here. The brief article is based on a scholarly article by the two archaeologists in Time and Mind: the Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, available in PDF here. There is a short article by Liran and Barkai in the March, 2011, issue of Antiquity, here. There is also an article in The Media Line here.

It may be that the tower served an astronomical purpose, but the suggestion that it was built to entice the local inhabitants to become farmers is nothing more than an interesting speculation.

Note also that this tower has nothing to do with the biblical account of the destruction of the city of Jericho as recorded in Joshua 6. That did not occur until about 1400 B.C. (or later, according to the “late date” theory of the Exodus).

HT: Joseph Lauer

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