Three separate settlements have existed at or near the current location for more than 11,000 years. The location was probably desirable
on account of a supply of fresh water and a favorable position on an east-west route north of the Dead Sea.
The earliest settlement was located at the present-day Tell es-Sultan (or Tell Sultan), a couple of kilometers from the current city.
Arabic tell means "mound" -- consecutive layers of habitation built up a mound over time,
as is common for ancient settlements in the Middle East and Anatolia. The Neolithic settlements were contemporary with Catalhoyuk and
had a similar technology level. The habitation has been classed into several phases:
Pre-Pottery Neolithic A, 8350 BC to 7370 BC. A four hectare settlement surrounded by a stone wall, with a stone tower in the centre of one wall. Round mud-brick houses. Use of domesticated emmer wheat, barley and pulses and hunting of wild animals.
Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, 7220 BC to 5850 BC. Expanded range of domesticated plants. Possible domestication of sheep. Apparent cult involving the preservation of human skulls, with facial features reconstructed from plaster and eyes set with shells in some cases.
Late 4th millennium BC. A walled town, continuously occupied until some time between 1580 BC and 1400 BC when it was destroyed.
Tulul Abu el-'Alayiq
A later settlement spanned the Hellenistic, New Testament, and Islamic periods, leaving mounds located at Tulul Abu el-'Alayiq, 2 km west of modern er-Riha.
The present city was captured by Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967. It was the first city to be handed by Israel to the Palestinian Authority in 1994, in accordance with the Gaza and Jericho Agreement.
The first archaeological excavations of the site were made by Charles Warren in 1868. Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger
excavated Tell es-Sultan and Tulul Abu el-'Alayiq between 1907-1909 and in 1911. John Garstang excavated between 1930 and 1936.
Extensive investigations using more modern techniques were made by Kathleen Kenyon between 1952 and 1958.