December 2009, Archaeologists unveiled the remains of the first dwelling in Nazareth that could shed new light on what the hamlet was like during the New Testament period when Jesus lived there as a boy. Nazareth is the town where Christian tradition alleges Jesus grew up. A young Jesus may have played around the house with his cousins and friends. Archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority stated workers uncovered the first signs of the dwelling in the summer, but it became clear only that it was a structure from the era of Jesus.
The dwelling and older discoveries of nearby tombs in burial caves suggest that Nazareth was an out-of-the-way hamlet of around 50 houses on a patch of about 1.6 hectares. Archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, stated it was evidently populated by Jews of modest means who kept camouflaged grottos to hide from Roman invaders.
Alexandre’s team found a camouflaged entry way into a grotto, which was used by Jews at the time to hide from Roman soldiers who were battling Jewish rebels at the time for control of the area. The grotto would have hid around six people for a few hours. Similar camouflaged grottos were found in other ancient Jewish communities of the lower Galilee such as the nearby biblical village of Cana, which did witness battle between Jews and Romans. However, Roman soldiers did not end up battling Nazareth’s Jews because the hamlet had little strategic value at the time. The Roman army was more interested in larger towns and strategic hilltop communities.
Alexandre’s team found remains of a wall, a hideout, a courtyard and a water system that appeared to collect water from the roof and supply it to the home. The discovery was made when builders dug up the courtyard of a former convent to make room for a new Christian centre, just meters away from a Basilica. It was not clear how big the dwelling is, however Alexandre’s team have uncovered about 85 square metres of the house, which may have been for an extended family and could be much larger.
As workers at the site carefully chipped away at mud with small pickaxes to reveal stone walls, archaeologists found clay and chalk vessels which were likely used by Galilean Jews of the time. Based on clay and chalk shards found at the site, the dwelling appeared to house a “simple Jewish family.” The scientists concluded a Jewish family lived there because of the chalk, which was used by Jews at the time to ensure the purity of the food and water kept inside the vessels. The shards date back to the time of Jesus, which includes the late Hellenic, early Roman period that ranges from around 100 B.C. to 100 A.D.. The determination was made by comparing the findings to shards and remains found in other parts of the Galilee typical of that period.
The absence of any remains of glass vessels or imported products suggested the family who lived in the dwelling were “simple,” since the remains did not indicate whether they were traders or farmers. The only other artifacts that archeologists have found in the Nazareth area from the time of Jesus are ancient burial caves outside the hamlet, providing a rough idea of the village’s population at the time.
Work is now taking place to clear newer ruins built above the dwelling, which will be preserved. The dwelling will become a part of a new international Christian centre being constructed close to the site and funded by a French Roman Catholic group. Alexandre stated limited space and population density in Nazareth means it is unlikely that archeologists can carry out any further excavations in the area, leaving this dwelling to tell the story of what Jesus’ boyhood home may have looked like.