Villagers of the 1st Century did not live in houses designed by architects and built by contractors. In planning a house they adapted their living arrangements to fit the topography – it was easier that way – and probably built much of the house themselves. Thus their building plans were more conceptual than specific, flexible living concepts which would ultimately be given shape by the lay of the land, and evolve according to the needs of the family.
For an accurate reconstruction we had to grasp this process, to recognize the patterns of ancient living arrangements – how they met essential needs for shelter, water, and storage – in order to understand how they might have used our land to build their settlement.
Despite the tremendous gulf of time separating our world from theirs, we have considerable advantages to bridge that gap. We are able to study firsthand many of the settlements they left behind, we have access to the same materials – and we are building on the same land.
Archaeological excavations of 1st Century agricultural settlements show that people usually lived in small rooms built around a central open courtyard. These houses usually began as what is called the simple house, a building subdivided into a relatively large room (traklin) with smaller rooms for sleeping and storage. This building would be attached to an open courtyard – furnished with a water cistern and oven – where much of the domestic activities (cooking, cleaning, weaving, etc.) would take place. In regions such as Nazareth, the soft limestone bedrock was often hewn into caves and underground complexes ideal for storage.
As the family grew, the offspring would marry and build additional living units around the same courtyard, transforming the simple house into the more complex courtyard house. Additional rooms and courtyards for crafts and other activities might also be attached.