Prehistoric: 500 BCE to 37 BCE

Timeline date: 
Pre-colonial

 
  

 

 
  

 

Prehistoric: 500 BCE to 37 BCE  
 
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It has been established that the Nazareth area was settled in the prehistoric era by our earliest ancestors. Excavations on a slope below the Mount of Precipice located a cave that revealed rich archeological findings: several human skeletons, thousands of items of earthenware and extinct animals’ bones dating back tens of thousands of years. The cave was used both as a dwelling place by prehistoric man and as a burial site.
 
 
 
 
Prehistoric Findings
 
Human settlement of Nazareth dates back to prehistoric times. The area of the Fertile Crescent (comprising Syria, Lebanon, Palestine-Israel, Jordan and Iraq) was one of prehistoric man’s preferred areas for habitation, because it supplied all his basic needs: shelter, security, food and water.
 
 
 
Similarly, the topography of Nazareth -- a valley surrounded by mountains -- provided protection and security. Plenty of food could be found in the valley and on the mountains around it. The spring, later known as Mary’s Well, provided fresh water. And the dozens of limestone caves in this area were ideal for habitation. In a Koranic verse describing the early life of Jesus, Nazareth is even referred to as the “Mother of all caves”.
 
 
 
The Cave of Precipice, located at the foot of the Mount of Precipice (“Jebel Kufze” in Arabic), was first noticed by Franciscan monks, who informed the French Consulate of Jerusalem. The consulate recruited an archeological expedition, led by R. Neville and M. Shtekellis, that began work in 1965 and continued for another 14 years.
 
 
 
The findings in the cave include sites where fires were set, fragments of earthenware, layers of soil, extinct animals’ bones and human bones. This led the researchers to conclude that the cave was used both as a hunters’ and shepherds’ dwelling place and as a burial site. Discovered in the cave were the bones of 20 people, including 13 spinal columns – six belonging to adults and seven to children – of which five were neatly buried in flattened tunnels on the cave floor. One of the buried corpses was laid in a small room with its hands folded, and a young woman was found on her side with her legs crossed with a little girl lying next to her, her head over the woman’s chest. In addition, there were two bodies, of an adult and a young person, probably gored by a stag. They were buried in a joint grave with the horns of the stag that killed them.
 
 
 
One issue on which the researchers are still disagreed is the age of the skeletons. Some say that they are at least 30,000 years old, while others date them to an even earlier period: 85,000-100,000 years ago.
 
 
 
Apart from the prehistoric findings, other excavations in this area have uncovered a small church attributed to the holiness of the Mount in Christian tradition.
 
 
 
Source: The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, Israeli Antiquities Society, V: El-Kaphza Cave, p.1414