June 21, 2024

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Jericho, occupied West Bank – Tell es-Sultan has been deemed a World Heritage Site in Palestine, with the United Nations declaring it the “oldest fortified city in the world”.

Iyad Hamdan, director general of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Jericho, told Al Jazeera that the decision “strengthens Palestinian identity and international recognition”.

The ruins near the ancient city of Jericho in the occupied West Bank had their special status declared on Sunday at a meeting of the UN World Heritage Committee of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Tell es-Sultan, an oval mound containing evidence of prehistoric human activity dating back to the ninth millennium BCE with a perennial spring nearby, is 10km (6 miles) northwest of the Dead Sea and 1.5km (nearly one mile) north of the modern city of Jericho.

Fortification walls and trenches, as well as the remains of palaces, staircases and towers from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, were found as well.

Hamdan said: “Tel es-Sultan is the oldest fortified agricultural settlement in which the Palestinian individual moved from hunting and gathering to agriculture and animal domestication.”

Meanwhile, Hani Noureldin, professor of archaeology at Abu Dis University in Jerusalem, said the site “confirms the extent of the importance of human civilization in Palestine”.

Tel es-Sultan is an “exceptional case … distinguished by its transitional dimension between the stages of hunting and gathering food, to a stable settlement that possesses the basic elements of natural resources”, Noureldin told Al Jazeera.

It “represents the civil development that characterised the Fertile Crescent region in general, Mesopotamia and the Levant, during the third and second millennium BCE”, he continued.

The creativity of the site’s inhabitants, said Noureldin, “was reflected in the burial rituals, which included decorating human skulls with a smooth layer of plaster before painting it with natural colours.”

Tell es-Sultan joins three other UN-designated World Heritage Sites in Palestine: the birthplace of Jesus including the Church of the Nativity and the pilgrimage route in Bethlehem, the old town of Hebron, and the “cultural landscape” of the village of Battir south of Jerusalem.

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