In 1930 John Garstang, a professor at England's Liverpool University, took a team to Israel in hopes of shedding new light on the ruins of Jericho. His excavation, more thorough than either of the previous ones, lasted until 1936, and turned up considerable new findings. His diggings reached down into the Neolithic period, to the very beginnings of settlement at Jericho, and covered four successive incarnations of the city. His main concern was with the fourth city--that reportedly destroyed by Joshua--but his excavation led to many discoveries in all periods of occupation.


The artifacts uncovered by the Garstang team range from ancient grain stores to animal figurines. He was most concerned with the walls, which he hoped would provide support for the biblical account of the Israelites' conquest of Jericho, but his dig brought to light thousands of other ancient specimens, as well as floor plans for many houses and what he took to be a palace.

As he dug down into the ruins, Garstang noted four distinct layers, separated by bands of burnt material. This presumably indicated a city leveled periodically by earthquake, fire, or conquest, and requiring reconstruction after each catastrophe. He accordingly assigned his findings to four separate cities, all standing one atop the other.

Pottery was the most abundant artifact found at Jericho, as is the case with most ancient sites. Because of its ubiquity, pottery is often used to relate different places in time, placing them along an absolute chronology. This pottery, though, could not be used much for absolute dating, because it bore little or no resemblance to pottery found at other sites, and therefore no correlation between Jericho and the outside world could be made. Some of the forms were similar to those at other sites, but the decoration was almost entirely unique. Jericho's pottery passed through all the experimentation and refinement stages seen at other sites, but seems to have done so completely independently, with its own distinctive style.

The earliest implements found were flints from the Neolithic, the oldest of which Garstang dated to around 5,000 BCE. Arrow heads, scrapers, blades, sickles and other tools were found in the earliest layers along with some domestic items like mortars, pounders, bone points, and beads. From these he surmised that there was well-developed domestic life at Jericho from the very beginning. Flints appeared in other layers and seemed to be in use throughout the following ages.

Garstang found what he believed to be a temple, whose foundations reached through all the ages of the city, and which seemed to have been rebuilt in each successive age. From its continual reconstruction and from the many animal figurines found there, he inferred that it was a temple of some sort, whose religion had a pastoral focus.

The other notable building found was a palace structure, standing on the highest point within the city walls. The area was actually home to three different palaces over the course of the city's history; it had to be rebuilt after each destruction of the city.

Another important find was a necropolis 250 yards to the west of the city mound, which yielded artifacts as well as information on burial customs. The tombs were either small grotto-like chambers or shallow, round graves. They contained pottery and other offerings, which could be used for rough dating, and in some cases to establish ties to Egypt and Babylonia. From the pottery and scarabs found at the necropolis, Garstang concluded that its use was continuous from the third millennium BCE until the city's final destruction around 1400 BCE.


Of main interest to Garstang were the walls of Jericho. They are the physical attribute featured in the Bible, and he hoped, through archeological excavation, to unearth the walls reportedly brought down by Joshua and the Israelites, thus providing material evidence which could be compared with the biblical narrative.

Garstang found the walls of all four cities, built sometimes on top of one another, sometimes changing from age to age. The first wall, dated to around 3,000 BCE, enclosed roughly four acres of ground in an oblong shape, within which lay the city's buildings and a spring, their water supply. The second wall, dated to 2,500 BCE, followed much the same plan, with the addition of ramparts and added thickness. Each successive wall featured improved construction techniques. The third city wall, from around 1,800 BCE, was considerably larger, enclosing around nine acres. The fourth and last wall was extremely eroded, but its general shape could be seen to follow that of the first two. It was this last wall Garstang was most interested in, for resting as it did in the topmost layer, it would have been the one toppled by Joshua and the Israelites.

The fourth city wall was a double enclosure; the outer wall was six feet thick, and the main, inner wall was twelve feet thick and much higher than the first. These walls, despite their impressive size, were poorly constructed of unbaked mud bricks. The foundation was poor, and houses built up against it further weakened the inner wall.

Garstang found these walls in a ruinous state. They had mostly collapsed, and were burnt extensively along all the visible sections (much of the wall having already eroded away). In addition, the houses he unearthed in the topmost layer were charred, their bricks turned many colors by the heat, and their contents, like pottery and grain, blackened.

The explanation Garstang gives for this massive destruction is an earthquake, and he presents a very plausible case for this being so. Jericho lies on a fault that runs along the west side of the Jordan Valley, and has seen many earthquakes throughout the centuries. The walls of the fourth city fell outward, which would have been the most likely outcome of a quake, and the city's buildings were leveled, the result of a superhuman destructive force. Garstang cites another convincing piece of evidence: the near identicality between a description of disaster in Joshua 3, 16, and two descriptions of earthquakes in later times (1267 CE and 1927 CE). In each account the cliffs above the Jordan River fall into the river and dam it. The striking similarities lead one to believe that the destruction being described in the book of Joshua is the same as that assigned to earthquakes in the other accounts.

Far from seeing an explanation based on natural phenomena as dispelling the possibility of divine aid, Garstang believes an earthquake was merely the agent of God's will in helping the Israelites. He simply fits this into the story of Joshua. After God had sent an earthquake to bring down the walls, the Israelites "went up into the city," burnt everything there, and the story proceeded just as the Bible states. Evidence for a massive and intentional burning of the city was a deep layer (sometimes over three feet thick) of charred wood and reeds found between many of the walls and houses. It would appear these had been piled up and deliberately set ablaze, as the Israelites are reported to have done.


In the preface to his book, The Story of Jericho, Garstang states his wish to let the reader decide for himself what bearing his discoveries have on the biblical account of Jericho. From his writings, though, we learn a few things about Garstang's personal agenda concerning his work on the ancient city. Garstang was a Christian and accordingly sought to validate his beliefs with archeological proof. He connects as much evidence as possible to the Bible, even when the connection is tenuous at best. Things found in the ground from thousands of years ago have so many different potential meanings, it is nearly impossible to conclude anything from them with certainty. Each archeologist's interpretations will vary, and Garstang's were guided by his interest in the Bible.

His bias is evident in many of his interpretations of the ruins, for he uses the evidence from the dig to support the Bible whenever remotely possible. When he sees ruined walls and signs of fire, he links them with Joshua's victory, offering no other possible explanations for the destruction. After quoting the sixth chapter of Joshua, which describes the collapse of the walls and the Israelites' burning of the city, he states:
"These episodes are confirmed in all material particulars: the fallen walls have been laid bare, while the burning of demolished buildings is found to have been general and so conspicuous as to suggest a deliberate holocaust." (Garstang, 6)
It is certainly possible that such evidence supports the biblical story, but it is equally possible that the walls were tumbled in connection with something else entirely, and Garstang fails to present all the options.

Garstang's faith in the Bible's accuracy is clear from his view of the biblical narrative as suitable for the referencing of history. He quotes extensively from Exodus and Joshua when trying to give the proper historical perspective on Jericho. This view of the Bible as equitable with other history was hardly questioned at the time Garstang was writing (1939), but has since been widely questioned or condemned by modern culture.

Garstang's view of archeology becomes evident in his discussion of its application to biblical history. He devotes a whole chapter at the end of his book to connections between archeology and the Bible. His position on the role of archeology is clarified in the following passage:
"At Jericho two worlds meet, the world which lives for us still in the imperishable records of the Old Testament, and the world of modern scientific research which lifts it out of the darkness of semi-legend and sets it in the full light of history." (Garstang, 157-58)
He sees archeology as a tool by which to validate biblical history.


Garstang's methods for excavating, preserving, and dating his finds were as up-to-date as possible for the times, but his work came before some important advances in archeology. Dating techniques in particular underwent important changes and improvements in the following decades, and later archeologists working on the site questioned many of Garstang's dates.

Radiocarbon dating, or Carbon 14 dating, was developed around 1946, and has since been used to date ancient artifacts more precisely than was possible previously. Garstang's dating methods were limited to inferences from relations between strata, and links, such as pottery and trade goods, to other dated cultures like Egypt and Babylonia. His chronology was not entirely incorrect, but many of his dates and the conclusions he drew from them were later proven false by superior techniques.


In one section of the city Garstang found several rooms containing the remains of grain and food. He decided that they must have been storage rooms for an adjoining palace, but Kathleen Kenyon, in her 1952-58 excavation, determined that he was mistaken and that they were in fact storage for private residences.

At the time Garstang was digging, there was also a very limited knowledge of Late Bronze Age pottery. His assumption about continuous occupation of the tombs turned out to be incorrect, as increased knowledge of pottery showed that at least a century was missing from the ceramic record.

Scarabs found in the necropolis played a role in Garstang's dating and interpretations. Though he did not rely too heavily on them, some of his conclusions, especially those concerning relations with Egypt, must be seriously questioned. Kenyon points out in her book, Digging Up Jericho, that scarabs were often heirloom items, and their placement in graves is not a reliable indicator of dates. For instance, Garstang found scarab seals bearing the names of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III and assumed these indicated that Jericho was annexed under their reigns, but the scarabs might easily have been buried generations later.

Perhaps the most important and somewhat ironic error on Garstang's part was the dating of the walls. In the uppermost section of the ruined walls he though he had found the key to interpreting the story in Joshua. Dating by Kenyon, though, determined that these walls were of the Early Bronze Age, not the Late Bronze Age as Garstang had thought. The walls of Joshua's time were eroded away long ago, and what he took to be the defenses of the 15th century BCE were shown to date from around 2300 BCE. His enthusiastic interpretation of these walls' significance, therefore, was misplaced, and shed no light on the biblical narrative he had hoped to defend.