First home from time of Jesus unearthed in Nazareth
The two rooms, broken pottery and a courtyard offer the first glimpse into the Biblical Galilean town where Christ grew up with his mother, Mary, and father, Joseph.
It would have been a basic existence, with few luxuries, according to Yardenna Alexandre, who led a team from the Israel Antiquities Authority.
"The discovery is of the utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth and thereby sheds light on the way of life at the time of Jesus.
"The building that we found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of the dwellings in Nazareth in that period," she said.
Ms Alexandre added the discovery was the first of its kind.
"Until now a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth. However, no settlement remains have been discovered that are attributed to this period."
Thousands of Christians will converge on the town of Bethlehem this week to mark the birth of Jesus.
Television cameras will beam images from midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity – built above the exact site of the famous stable – all around the world.
Christ spent much of his life in Nazareth, close to the Sea of Galilee. At that time, it was a small Jewish village of maybe 50 or so homes.
Today it is busy town, known as Israel's Arab capital, with a population of 65,000 Palestinians. About a third are Christians, tracing their family lines all the way back to the earliest followers of Jesus.
Overseas pilgrims also throng shrines built to mark Joseph's carpentry workshop and the site where Jesus is believed to have dined with the Apostles after the resurrection.
The latest discovery, announced yesterday, was made alongside the Basilica of the Annunciation, where the Angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to the Son of God, according to the Gospel of Luke.
Ms Alexandre said the location, next to the alleged site of Jesus's home, suggests the new house may have belonged to his neighbours or extended family.
She also recovered fragments of pottery and chalk vessels.
"It tells us there were few luxuries, no imports," said Ms Alexandre.
"It would have been a simple, basic way of life."
The remains were hidden away for centuries beneath successive rounds of construction.
In recent years the house lay buried beneath a children's playground.
Excavations were ordered as part of an archaeological survey ahead of plans to build a museum on the site.
They revealed the low walls of an abandoned home as well as a cistern, which once filled with rainwater, and a small, camouflaged cave hewn from rock.
"Based on other excavations that I conducted in other villages in the region, this pit was probably hewn as part of the preparations by the Jews to protect themselves during the Great Revolt against the Romans in AD67," said Ms Alexandre.
The site will now be preserved within a museum dedicated to the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Nazareth.