World's first skyscraper was a monument to intimidation

Feb 17, 2011
This is a view of the interior of the tower at Tel Jericho. Credit: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Discovered by archaeologists in 1952, a 28-foot-high stone tower discovered on the edge of the town of Jericho has puzzled scientists ever since. Now, 11,000 years after it was built, Tel Aviv University archaeologists at the ancient site Tel Jericho are revealing new facts about the world's first "skyscraper."

Recent computer-based research by doctoral student Roy Liran and Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Jacob M. Alkow Department of and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at the Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities sheds light on who built the 28-foot-high tower — and why.

The researchers note that this is the first instance of human beings erecting such a tall structure, even before the transition to agriculture and food production in the region. Liran and Dr. Barkai now believe that the tower, which required about ten years to build, is an indication of power struggles at the beginning of the Neolithic period, and that a particular person or people exploited the primeval fears of Jericho's residents in persuading them to build it. The new revelations about the ancient tower were recently published in the journal Antiquity.

"In the newly published article, we present a new and exciting discovery," Liran and Dr. Barkai said in a joint statement, "which is connected to the exact position of the tower on the edges of the village of Jericho, and the shadow that covers the site when the sun sets on the longest day of the year."

A stairway (and tower) to Heaven

"Reconstruction of the sunset revealed to us that the shadow of the hill as the sun sets on the longest day of the year falls exactly on the Jericho tower, envelops the tower and then covers the entire village," the researchers explained. "For this reason, we suggest that the tower served as an earthly element connecting the residents of the site with the hills around them and with the heavenly element of the setting sun." Its construction may be related to the primeval fears and cosmological beliefs of the villagers, they note.

Tel Jericho, located in modern day Jericho in the West Bank, is one of the most ancient sites in the world. The eight and half meter tower, which was built with a steep flight of stairs approximately one meter wide, rises above a four-meter wall that probably encompassed the city. The existence of the tower led to Jericho's identification as the first city in the world, even though it was in fact a settlement of pre-agricultural hunter gatherers.

"This was a time when hierarchy began and leadership was established," Dr. Barkai told the Jerusalem Post. "We believe this tower was one of the mechanisms to motivate people to take part in a communal lifestyle."

Debunking old theories

Some researchers have proposed that the tower and wall together comprised a system of fortification and a defense against flooding. Others have suggested the tower and wall as a geographical marker, defining the territory of the early residents of Jericho, and a symbol of the wealth and power of the ancient village.

In a 2008 article, the Tel Aviv University researchers proposed that the tower and wall of Jericho should be seen as cosmological markers, connecting the ancient village of Jericho with the nearby Mount Qarantal and sunset on the longest day of the year. The new paper fortifies their hypothesis.

This idea is based on the fact that the axis of the flight of stairs in the was built at a precise angle to the setting of the sun on the longest day of the year behind the highest peak overlooking Jericho, Mount Qarantal. They believe that it is humanity's first , however small, and also the world's first public building.

Explore further: Scientists reproduce evolutionary changes by manipulating embryonic development of mice

Related Stories

Futuristic Taiwan tower to have floating observatories

Nov 19, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A futuristic tower called "Floating Observatories," which resembles a tree trunk with eight floating elevator observatories shaped like leaves, will soon become a major landmark in Taichung, ...

Imagine Peace Tower lights in Second Life

Oct 11, 2009

Just hours after Friday's annual lighting of the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland, a virtual version of the tribute to late Beatle John Lennon opened in online world Second Life.

'Cosmic opera' set for Paris tower

Oct 08, 2009

The rooftop of a Paris skyscraper is to be transformed into a cosmic-ray laboratory in an unusual week-long experiment due to start on Saturday.

Recommended for you

Shrinking dinosaurs evolved into flying birds (w/ Video)

8 minutes ago

A new study involving scientists from the University of Southampton has revealed how massive, meat-eating, ground-dwelling dinosaurs evolved into agile flying birds: they just kept shrinking and shrinking, ...

Fragment of Ice Age ivory lion gets its head back

7 hours ago

Archaeologists from the University of Tübingen have found an ancient fragment of ivory belonging to a 40,000 year old animal figurine. Both pieces were found in the Vogelherd Cave in southwestern Germany, ...

Violent aftermath for the warriors at Alken Enge

Jul 29, 2014

Denmark attracted international attention in 2012 when archaeological excavations revealed the bones of an entire army, whose warriors had been thrown into the bogs near the Alken Enge wetlands in East Jutland ...

User comments : 25

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Justavian
4.5 / 5 (8) Feb 17, 2011
The researchers note that this is the first instance of human beings erecting such a tall structure...


That seems like a pretty bold statement. It's only 28 feet high. At least they could have phrased this as "No evidence has yet been discovered to indicate that humans were building structures this high anywhere else."
mvg
5 / 5 (6) Feb 17, 2011
"Now, eleven centuries after it was built,"

This does not take us anywhere near the neolithic.
Quantum_Conundrum
4.2 / 5 (6) Feb 17, 2011
"Now, eleven centuries after it was built,"

This does not take us anywhere near the neolithic.


I think they meant to type "eleven millenia".
Skepticus
3 / 5 (4) Feb 17, 2011
Okay, know we know watch tower and intimidation tactics in the West Bank started a long time ago, and the followers just picked up where it stopped.
RayCherry
3.7 / 5 (9) Feb 17, 2011
tau.ac.il/humanities/archaeology/directory/barkay papers/
MidsummerSunsetatNeolithicJericho.pdf

The writer and editor were sleeping off a heavy night. Approximately 8300BCE, yields an age of 10.3 thousand years. The original Author is also dreaming a little when considering that the modern alignment of a local natural landmark with the point of sunset on a particular day and the staircase carved broad and strong through a manmade hill. The tilt of the Earth has altered several times during the intervening period and a good astronomical simulation may well indicate that the Summer Solstice SunSet was in quite a different location on the Jericho horizon ten millennia ago.
RayCherry
1.7 / 5 (3) Feb 17, 2011
The biblical story of Jericho indicates it was attacked more than once. Perhaps the intimidating defences were aligned to face directly the approaching enemies, who would quite plausibly choose the high ground for their war camp and/or initial attacking position. Since building the city limits to include that peak were beyond their capacities, building a highly visible defence system on the facing side of Jericho with impressive engineering would dishearten many attackers.
InsaniD
5 / 5 (5) Feb 17, 2011
Why is it that everything archaeologists discover ends up being a "ritual" item or linked to the "solstice". The solstice sun hits my house dead on at the solstice. Does that mean the original builders were worshiping the sun?
NO!

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes a tower might have been for a lookout...
xznofile
3 / 5 (3) Feb 17, 2011
"This was a time when hierarchy began and leadership was established," Dr. Barkai told the Jerusalem Post. "We believe this tower was one of the mechanisms to motivate people to take part in a communal lifestyle."

Every primate community, including nomads and chimpanzees, has a hierarchy of leaders. These communities hold the territory in common. The term he's looking for is "King" where an individual controls property rights, and delegates to his supporters. In fact the tower could have just as easily been a clock to define when the work day was over. as such it would have been motivated by workers rather than kings.

the point being that a society that "takes part in a communal lifestyle" isn't the creation of some authority, it's a group effort, and often in spite of leadership.
tk1
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 17, 2011
It was aliens
sstritt
2.5 / 5 (4) Feb 17, 2011
The biblical story of Jericho indicates it was attacked more than once. Perhaps the intimidating defences were aligned to face directly the approaching enemies, who would quite plausibly choose the high ground for their war camp and/or initial attacking position. Since building the city limits to include that peak were beyond their capacities, building a highly visible defence system on the facing side of Jericho with impressive engineering would dishearten many attackers.

Jericho sits on a broad flat plain. A 28 ft tower would be very useful as an early warning system for approaching enemies.
panorama
4 / 5 (4) Feb 17, 2011
Why is it that everything archaeologists discover ends up being a "ritual" item or linked to the "solstice". The solstice sun hits my house dead on at the solstice. Does that mean the original builders were worshiping the sun?
NO!

You're not thinking fourth dimensionally.
RayCherry
1 / 5 (3) Feb 17, 2011
Perhaps you people should follow the link above and see the images of what these idiots are calling a tower, or sky scraper. It is a very old city wall, with a cross section like a man made hill, with a tunnel running from the interior base to the exterior roof, or terrace. Reading further you would find that this wall surrounds the city, though the one (surviving?) stair case is on the side of major gateway that happens to face north-west toward a prominent local hill. The marvel of all this is not, for me, a ten thousand year old staircase. It is that the great wall of Jericho has been (once again) scientifically dated to the late Neolithic period, and yet this city is recorded in the earliest human literature between five and seven thousands of years later. It begs the question, why was Jericho so important that an invading King must be recorded as (re)conquering it and raising the city to the ground?
ineuw
2 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2011
There is some error in the number of centuries mentioned in the article. Correct me if I am wrong but 11 centuries ago, it was the Middle Ages.
Mercury_01
1.7 / 5 (3) Feb 18, 2011
The researchers note that this is the first instance of human beings erecting such a tall structure...


That seems like a pretty bold statement. It's only 28 feet high. At least they could have phrased this as "No evidence has yet been discovered to indicate that humans were building structures this high anywhere else."

I agree. the level of know-it-allism in anthropology is pathetic. People invent things constantly, and they always have. technology has been lost and found countless times over millions of years. cities all around the world have been found at the bottom of the sea, under 100 feet of water and dating back 10-12000 years.
Mayday
4 / 5 (3) Feb 18, 2011
The question for me is: what would have motivated this early culture(and others around the world) to expend the resources to build a structure of such monumental permanence? And of course, that question is followed by: why did all human cultures stop building such monumentally permanent structures several hundred years ago? Then: when was the last time anyone built anything that was seriously meant to last more than a tawdry couple of centuries or so (without museum-like protection and care)?
StandingBear
1 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2011
The Cretans of pre-Mycenaean Greece had concrete. This was lost in the Greek Dark Ages. Rediscovered by the Romans, first for mortar and later for concrete, it was lost again with the fall of Rome for western Europe, and for Eastern Europe with the fall of Constantinople, not to be discovered again for hundreds of years. This may have happened before this even, prior to the invention of writing, or at least writing that we have found so far. Say, in ancient Dacia, and in submerged Black Sea and Persian Gulf where the original manuscript in stone may yet be found under its polluted waters among the ruins of lost Eden. I wonder if the modern nation of 'Aden' may really mean 'Eden' in English?
rgwalther
not rated yet Feb 18, 2011
It was aliens


Only if there was that there funny light in the sky...
jmcanoy1860
5 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2011
It was aliens


Only if there was that there funny light in the sky...


And probes.
Skepticus
not rated yet Feb 19, 2011
Damn, humans bastardry started that early, 11,000 years ago.
trekgeek1
not rated yet Feb 19, 2011
The question for me is: what would have motivated this early culture(and others around the world) to expend the resources to build a structure of such monumental permanence? And of course, that question is followed by: why did all human cultures stop building such monumentally permanent structures several hundred years ago?


Realizing that everyone dies and needing to construct something that would last longer than a single lifetime of a human. It probably gave them some sense of immortality. Perhaps as life expectancy and infant mortality have increased, the need to live through structures was replaced by the increased likelihood of living through one's children and the satisfaction of a longer, happier life. Just my thought. I would also assume scarcity of resources and efficiency have become more important considerations.
ODesign
3 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2011
someone wrote. . .

"Jericho sits on a broad flat plain. A 28 ft tower would be very useful as an early warning system for approaching enemies."

A 28 ft tower would also be a good way to find the "city" from a long ways away so you didn't wander around the broad flat plain for days. They probably didn't have roads or any thing to tell people how to get there. Animal paths would cross all over the plain in a way that would probably not lead conveniently to the tower and foot paths would likely follow the animal paths so not much help there either. You could also set a fire at the top to let everyone on the plain know that food or spear heads or other specialized items were available to trade.
Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2011
I was expecting a Kevinrtrs post telling us this was the tower of babel.
Herr
not rated yet Feb 23, 2011
I have a question for all of you scholars out there.....This tower is 28 feet tall built in the middle of a plain with a stair-way running threw it, so why was this not discovered prior to 1952 ?
Ethelred
5 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2011
Because it was under a later layers of the city. It is a very old tower in a very old city with a LOT of layers on top of the tower.

In much of the fertile crescent there are these odd hills and bumps in the plains. Many if not most are remains of old cities piled on top of each other. Just like Troy.

Ethelred
Herr
not rated yet Feb 28, 2011
Thank-you "Etheired" for the explanation

Herr Murphy