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Israel: First Jesus-era house found in Nazareth

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Israel: First Jesus-era house found in Nazareth
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NAZARETH, Israel � Days before Christmas, archaeologists on Monday unveiled what they said were the remains of the first dwelling in Nazareth that can be dated back to the time of Jesus � a find that could shed new light on what the hamlet was like during the period the New Testament says Jesus lived there as a boy.

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 four acres (1.6 hectares). It was evidently populated by Jews of modest means who kept camouflaged g<snip>s to hide from Roman invaders, said archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority,

Based on clay and chalk shards found at the site, the dwelling appeared to house a "simple Jewish family," Alexandre added, as workers at the site carefully chipped away at mud with small pickaxes to reveal stone walls.

Nazareth holds a cherished place in Christianity. It is believed to be the town where Christian tradition says Jesus grew up and where an angel told Mary she would bear the child of God.

"This may well have been a place that Jesus and his contemporaries were familiar with," Alexandre said. A young Jesus may have played around the house with his cousins and friends, she said. "It's a logical suggestion."

The discovery so close to Christmas has pleased local Christians.

"They say if the people do not speak, the stones will speak," said a smiling Father Jack Karam of the nearby Basilica of the Annunciation, the site where Christian tradition says Mary received the angel's word.

Alexandre said workers uncovered the first signs of the dwelling in the summer, but it became clear only this month that it was a structure from the era of Jesus.

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 center, just yards (meters) away from the Basilica.

It is not clear how big the dwelling is � Alexandre's team have uncovered about 900 square feet (85 square meters) of the house, but it may have been for an extended family and could be much larger, she said.

Alexandre said her team also found a camouflaged entry way into a g<snip>, which she believes 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 g<snip> would have hid around six people for a few hours, she said

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