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
“The tower is an indication of power struggles at the beginning of the
Neolithic period and of the fact that a particular person or people
exploited the primeval fears of the residents and persuaded them to
build it,” Barkai told The Media Line.
Barkai said architecture designed to awe and inspire, and without any
obviously functional purpose, isn’t unique to the megalithic period.
Even today, governments erect monuments like the Arc de Triomphe to
influence public opinion and enhance their standing.
The period when the tower was built was a time when people started to
put down literal roots by abandoning hunting and gathering and taking up
farming. But, according to Barkai, people didn’t make the transition
easily because farming was actually a harder way of life.
“This was a time when hierarchy began and leadership was established.
This was the time that social formations took place and many scientists
have wondered why people were moved to produce food, to make the
transition to agriculture,” Barkai said. “Agriculture worked for the
benefit of certain individuals in the community, because people produce
surplus that was stored and then divided by individuals.”
“It has been proven that people worked much harder during the Neolithic
period than before. It was easier to live by hunting and gathering so
we believe this tower was one of the mechanisms to motivate people to
take part in a communal lifestyle,” he said.
Mysteriously, the tower was built on the outskirts of town and not as
part of the fortifications of the city, which was the world’s first.
A tower was something so alien to their conceptual world of the
builders, who had probably never seen or could conceive of such a
building, that it must have served more than a defensive purpose, Barkai
He backed this up with historical records indicating that no invaders
were present in the area at the time it was built, about 8300 BC.
According to archaeological estimates, it took about 11,000 working days
to build it.
“It is something out of time and place and looks like it doesn’t belong
where it was. It was a monumental effort to build, like the pyramids
[built 5,000 years later], only among a village of former hunters and
gatherers,” Barkai said.