How To See Palestine: An ABC of Occupation

J is for Jericho

A ‘tel’ is the name for an archaeological mound created by an abandoned human occupation. In Tel es Sultan, just outside Jericho, the British architect Kathleen M. Kenyon excavated human settlements reaching back to 10,000 BCE. That’s the very beginning of the Holocene, meaning the recent era, the now concluded window in which stable climatic conditions allowed for settled agriculture and what we call civilization, living in cities.

Kenyon’s signature “stratigraphic” style allows us to see the unfolding of human possibility from that early period, via the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages to the Romans. Her vertical method emphasizes visualizing these changes over time, rather than allowing for a horizontal exploration of how people lived in any one epoch. Everything changes. An urban civilization fell c. 2530 BCE. It was not restored until 1900 BCE.

We mostly do that now, live in cities. The trash, carbon dioxide and other pollutants created in that settlement have ushered in a new geological era, the Anthropocene, meaning the entirely human era. Geologists debate exactly when it began. Some see it as being just another way to say the Holocene, so that this trench is its beginning.

The Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), which is itself the largest scientific organisation within the International Union of Geological Sciences favors a more recent moment. To be specific, the second at which the first nuclear device was detonated in the New Mexico desert in 1945 in land that looks much like the Jericho desert. That would be the global Nakba (catastrophe), followed by the local example in Palestine in 1948.

The big white tourist buses arrive and take a look at what they believe to be the fallen walls of Jericho and leave. Look up at the mountains above and you realize what a mote in the eye of geological time these little ripples have been. No occupation lasts forever, even the human occupation of the Earth.

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