Summary of Excavations of the Nazareth Village

In November 1996 Stephen Pfann of the Center for the Study of Early Chistianity identified an ancient winepress associated with agricultural terraces on the grounds of Nazareth Hospital and the land adjacent to it. Potsherds were found on the surface of the terraces dating from various periods beginning with the early to late Roman period.

An archaeological survey of the surface of the land adjacent to Nazareth Hospital was conducted in February by Ross Voss, R. Michael Rapuano, Stephen Pfann, and Jan Karnis, all from the Center for the Study of Early Christianity. Two distinct areas were identified which are defined by the type of terracing found there.

The first season of excavation took place April 22nd until May 6th 1997 under the auspices of the Center for the Study of Early Christianity and under the joint directorship of Ross Voss and Stephen Pfann. Subsequent seasons of excavation have been conducted each spring since, with an additional short period of excavation in October 1998.

Area A: A dry farm

Location: the southern and eastern slope of the hill below the hospital. The terracing was built upon a rock slope. This was cut previously by surface quarrying which seems, at first, to have been planned to prepare level platforms for the terraces and to provide stone for building structures or terrace walls. The terrace walls were built of oval limestone fragments the size of an American football and smaller. The rough surface of each stone would suggest that these were not carried in from surrounding wadis (rocks from which would have a smooth surface). This suggests that the stones were likely quarried and shaped from the local limestone with impact devices (perhaps hammers and hatchets).

The terraces here are in a poor state of preservation due, in part, to the type of terrace wall that was constructed. However, this does not mean that the terraces were poorly or carelessly constructed, as the following factors indicate: (1) Great effort was exerted to level the stone surface for the building of each terrace. (2) Care was taken to produce a uniform oval shape and size of the stones. This insures a certain uniformity to the contruction of the terrace wall as well as uniform spacing between the stones in order to allow proper aeration and drainage of the soil of the terrace itself.

Terrace walls which are made of stones which fit together in this way tend to need more maintenance than those made of cut and fitted stones (as in a “wet farm”). This would indicate that the type of farm which existed here was an unirrigated “dry farm.” This type of farm relies upon watering by rain and dewfall which is supplemented by hand watering from run-off rainwater. The rainwater has been channeled into the small pools (and perhaps cisterns?) which have been identified among the terraces.

The soil of the terraces (only fragments of which have been preserved) seems, at this preliminary stage of our study, to have been layered with soils of at least two consistencies (as has been noted in other terraces found in the farms around Jerusalem - per G. Edelstein). The overall depth of the soil over much of this area is relatively shallow. This would suggest that vines were the primary crop intended for cultivation on such terraces. However certain terraces were deep enough to raise olive trees and many still survive on these terraced slopes today.

Typical crops of the dry farm would have been olives, grapes, figs, almonds, wheat and barley.

Observable structures on the site: winepress, base of watchtower, pools with channels, agricultural terraces and stone quarry. 1 column drum type crushing stone.

69_Press2.jpg

The winepress excavated during the 1997 season.

Area B: An irrigated “wet” farm

Location: To the southwest contiguous to the first area but divided by a small water-worn valley and continuing across the

full length of the slope facing the the first area (interrupted in part by recently constructed homes). It is a homogeneous area built with terraces of sturdy construction. The terrace walls are formed from semi-dressed stones carfully fitted together and strengthened with chink stones. The walls are revetted, leaning slightly backwards into the soil of the terrace.

This type of construction normally supports what would typically be a “wet farm,” irrigated directly from springs or pools. This allows the terrace to bear the heavier burden of water laden soil for crops which require irrigation. Typical crops would include legumes and leafy vegetables.

Most of these beautifully preserved terraces are also deep enough to allow the cultivation of larger trees. (cf. the carob trees which exist there which are likely a more recent crop on these slopes).

The ruins of three watchtowers surmount the walls of three separate terraces.

Structures: Three watchtowers, agricultural terraces. Possibly farmhouse, aqueducts, a threshing floor and a tomb (all need to be investigated). 1 column drum type crushing stone.

Area C: Another part of the dry farm

Above and to the west of Area B lay a series of dry-farm terraces which originally ascended to the crest of the hill. Earlier construction of private homes, the recent construction of a road and the current construction of apartments has either covered or obliterated most of the terraces associated with this area. Three of the remaining terraces were investigated.

We learned from these terraces the long history of the terrace farm at Nazareth Village. Pottery was found from the 1st to the 3rd century as well as the 11th to the 12 century AD. Local residents remember beans, lentils and carobs being harvested only decades ago.

Areas A, B and C in summary

The valley along with its slopes likely comprises the property of a single family’s farm which produced a variety of crops. This includes both areas A, B and C. The center of the farm should be identified with the watchtowers, the terraces and the water dispersement system. Most of the extent of the original farm is therefore almost entirely preserved. This farm remains the most important, and perhaps the only witness to the life and livelihoods of the ancient Nazarenes. It remains today as the last vestiges of virgin farmland directly connected with the ancient village of Nazareth.

The watchtowers which housed staff, animals and equipment served to protect the nearby crops. It would be from here that the growing crops would be carefully monitored by a family member, a servant, or a hireling. At the time of harvest the various families would shelter here from the heat of midday, and during the evening, the sounds of story-telling, music and singing could no doubt be heard.

On these terraces was the sound of the singing of families in the vineyard at the time of harvest. The sound of the flute echoed as the workers stomped the grapes at the winepress.

It was here that inquisitive children would play and watch life on the terraces. It was here that a certain boy Jesus of the village of Nazareth formed many images. It was these images which he would later bring to mind as spoken in parables concerning God’s relationship with man and of the great hope of His Kingdom.

Further archaeological and preservation work will be needed to add to the story and to better understand the rural life of the original Nazareth Village. If preserved this farm will freeze history in time and provide for both resident and visitor a important link for the city of Nazareth and its rich Biblical heritage. 

Research Reports

  • First Century Nazareth: A Preliminary Model for Ongoing Research
  • The House: Its Structure as a Living Space
  • Houshold Furnishings and Pottery: A Preliminary Report
  • The Synagogue in the First Century CE (A.D.): Recommendations for the Reconstruction of an Academically Defensible Synagogue in Nazareth

Research Team

Stephen J. Pfann, Ph.D., Director
Vered Hillel, Senior Researcher
Yehudah Rapuano, Senior Researcher
Curtis Hutt, Claire Ruth Pfann, Edwin Rattai
 

Research Advisory Board

R. Frankel, E. Meyers, J. Strange, V. Tzaferis
 

Synagogue Advisory Board

L. Levine, E. Meyers, E. Netzer, J. Strange