This picture taken on September 17, 2023 shows a view of the pre-historic site of Tell Al Sultan, near the Palestinian city of Jericho in the West Bank which was added to the World Heritage List. Image Credit: AFP

JERICHO: The United Nations’ cultural organisation inscribed the “pre-historic site of Tell Al Sultan” located near the West Bank city of Jericho on its World Heritage List on Sunday, Unesco said.

The decision, which was posted by the organisation on X, formerly Twitter, was taken at Unesco’s 45th world heritage committee meeting held in Riyadh.

“The property proposed for nomination is the prehistoric archaeological site of Tell Al Sultan, located outside the antique site of Jericho,” Unesco’s assistant director general, Ernesto Ottone, said at a session held to inscribe the site.

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“There are no Jewish or Christian remains at the site. It’s a place of pre-historic remains,” a Unesco diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The site was inscribed following a three-year candidacy “during which no state party raised any objections”, he said.

Israel quit the UN organisation in 2019 over accusations it fosters an anti-Israel bias.

Tourists near the site Image Credit: AFP
What’s World Heritage list?
World Heritage is the designation for places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
To be included in the list, it should among other things represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
Once a country signs the World Heritage Convention, and has sites inscribed on the World Heritage List, the resulting prestige often helps raise awareness among citizens and governments for heritage preservation. Greater awareness leads to a general rise in the level of the protection and conservation given to heritage properties. A country may also receive financial assistance and expert advice from the World Heritage Committee to support activities for the preservation of its sites.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said he considered the decision to inscribe Tell Al Sultan “a matter of great importance and evidence of the authenticity and history of the Palestinian people”.

He vowed that the Palestinian authorities would “continue to preserve this unique site for all humanity”, according to a statement from his office.

Diverse Palestinian heritage

Unesco’s listing shows that the Tell Al Sultan site is “an integral part of the diverse Palestinian heritage of exceptional human value”, Palestinian tourism minister Rula Maayah, who was attending the meeting in Riyadh, said in a statement.

Given Tell Al Sultan’s “importance as the oldest fortified city in the world... it deserves to be a World Heritage Site,” she said.

Tell Al Sultan, which predates Egypt’s pyramids, is an oval-shaped tell, or mound, located in the Jordan Valley that contains the prehistoric deposits of human activity.

Image Credit: AFP
Tourist attraction
The modern city of Jericho is a major draw for tourism to the Palestinian territories, both because of its historical sites and proximity to the Dead Sea. In 2021, the Palestinian Authority unveiled major renovations to one of the largest mosaics in the Middle East, in a Jericho palace dating back to the 8th century.
Tell Al Sultan, an oval-shaped mound, contains evidence of one of humanity’s first-known villages and an important Bronze-Age town dating back to 2600 B.C. It is around 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the remains of the first city of Jericho, which contains ruins of importance to Jewish history, including a synagogue dating back to the first century B.C.
Unesco, which refers to the site as Ancient Jericho/Tell Al Sultan, took pains to clarify that the two are distinct.
“The property proposed for nomination is the prehistoric archaeological site of Tell Al Sultan located outside the antique site of Jericho,” Ernesto Ottone, Unesco’s assistant director general, said during the meeting to discuss the site.
“Later historical developments, which span over millennia and are demonstrated by material remains beyond the boundaries of Tell Al Sultan, constitute a rich cultural context, worth of historical interest and preservation, covering among others, Jewish and Christian heritage. However, this is not the focus of the proposed nomination.”

“A permanent settlement had emerged here by the 9th to 8th millennium BC due to the fertile soil of the oasis and easy access to water,” Unesco said on its website.

Unesco said the “skulls and statues found on the site” testify to cultic practices among the neolithic population that lived there, while the early bronze age archaeological material shows signs of urban planning.

The Tell Al Sultan site has been under excavation for over a century and bills itself as the oldest continuously inhabited settlement on the planet, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

Tell Al Sultan is the fourth Palestinian site to be listed on Unesco’s world heritage list, alongside the Church of the Nativity and the Old City of Hebron.