Could this be the house where Jesus played?

Days before Christmas, archaeologists have unveiled what they say are the remains of the first dwelling in Nazareth that can be dated back to the time of Christ – a find that could shed new light on what the hamlet was like when, according to the New Testament, Jesus lived there as a boy.

Based on clay and chalk shards found at the site, the dwelling appeared to house a "simple Jewish family" said Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Nazareth holds a cherished place in Christianity. Christian tradition holds it to be the town where 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," Ms Alexandre said.

A young Jesus may have played around the house with his cousins and friends, she added. "It's a logical suggestion." Her team found the 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 centre.

It is not clear how big the dwelling is. The team have uncovered about 85 square metres of the house, but it may have been for an extended family and could be much larger. A camouflaged entrance to a grotto, large enough for about six people, has also been found. The team say this would have been used by Jews to hide from Roman soldiers who were battling rebels for control of the area.

Coming so close to Christmas the discovery 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 according to Christian tradition Mary received the angel's word.