Nazareth Village

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Characterization of Terrace Complex

Written by Mark M. Goodman, October 1998.

The “wet farm” complex at Nazareth Village consists of a series of stepped agricultural terraces constructed into the southern slope of a spring-fed wadi. The terraces extend into the exposed bedrock (Senonian-Eocene limestone) which was quarried and may have provided stone for the construction of the terrace retaining walls. The terraces generally follow the NE – SW topographical contours of the slope, linking up with three eroded structures identified in the archaeological survey as watchtowers.

The terraces themselves are comprised of relatively level plots of agricultural soil supported from erosion by a series of retaining walls built at the lower margins of each plot. These terrace walls are constructed of two main components; 1) an inner core of loosely-packed stone cobbles, and 2) an exterior facing of tightly chinked semi-dressed stone and rubble, set as dry laid construction or bedded in earthen mortar. The facings are often, though not always, set directly on exposed bedrock and slightly revetted to improve stability.

Both core and facing are recognized as performing specific roles within the terrace system. The inner core provides a well-drained supportive layer directly adjacent to the terrace soil, preventing over-saturation of the terrace soil. This both allows for proper aeration of plant roots, and minimizes structural stresses to the wall caused by saturation expansion of the terrace soil.

As the terraces were exposed and maintained over centuries of use, much of the supportive masonry walls and watchtowers show considerable variations of stone size, shape, and coursing. Thus it remains unclear as to what extent the terrace complex was constructed within a single campaign, or constructed in stages. In general, older walls are composed of angular semi-dressed stone while later repairs contain a greater percentage of smaller rounded fieldstone, often dry-laid without mortar. More extensive rebuilding of collapsed sections however, may have necessitated additional quarrying of stones, making it difficult to establish a chronology based upon masonry style.

The original configuration and specific purpose of the watchtowers remains unclear due to their collapsed and eroded condition. It is assumed that they gave an elevated observation point from which to guard the terraces, and may also have provided shelter and storage space for agricultural activities. The latter function is suggested from analyzing similar watchtowers of this period south of Jerusalem (Ein Yael), most of which contain an inner corbelled chamber, accessible to the lower terrace through a trabeated entrance.

To clarify the original configuration of the watchtowers, additional archaeological excavation, together with a more detailed survey of contemporaneous watchtowers from the same locale, must precede the restoration of these structures.