In the winter of 1986, after several years of drought, the water level of the Sea of Galilee had dropped by several meters and the shoreline had receded considerably. Two young men, walking along the shore south of their kibbutz - Ginosar, situated on the western bank of the lake - noticed the outline of a boat in the mud. Experts called in to examine the discovery concluded that the remains of an ancient boat had been found. It was decided to excavate it immediately, before the possible rise of the water level.
Innovative and sophisticated techniques were required for lifting and moving the boat. First, a massive dike was built around the site to prevent the lake from inundating it, while pumps were used to keep the groundwater out. The wood had to be kept wet during the removal of the silt from inside the hull, which was then strengthened with fiberglass and filled with polyurethane. Tunnels were dug under the boat and its sides strengthened. When the extremely fragile remains of the boat were safely packed, water was pumped into the big pit that had been created during the excavation, and the boat was floated to shore. It was placed in a specially built conservation pool at the Yigal Allon Museum of Kibbutz Ginosar, where the poly- urethane casing was removed and the boat re-submerged in water. In a process which took several years, synthetic wax was added to the wood, to give it sufficient structural strength for display outside the pool.
The boat was found lying perpendicular to the shore, its stern toward the lake; only the lower portion of the rounded stern was preserved. The boat's length is 8.2 m., its width 2.3 m. and its depth 1.2 m. It was built in the known "shell first" fashion, with mortise and tenon joinery and constructed mainly of cedar planks and oak frames. Much of the wood was in secondary use, i.e., it had been removed from older, obsolete boats. Additional wood fragments were uncovered nearby, attesting that the boat was found in a place that had served as a shipyard. It was large enough to carry 15 people, including a crew of five. Though apparently used for fishing, it may also have transported passengers and goods.
By the construction techniques and two pottery vessels found near it, archeologists judged that the boat was from the Roman period. Carbon-14 tests confirmed that the boat had been constructed and used between 100 BCE and 70 CE.
The few details known about boats on the Sea of Galiliee during Roman times are from written sources, such as Josephus Flavius and the New Testament, and from mosaic floors depicting boats. The discovery of this ancient boat of the Sea of Galilee therefore received worldwide attention.
The boat was excavated by S. Wachsmann and K. Raveh on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. O. Cohen served as the team conservationist.
[ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES] [Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs]
The Sea of Galilee Boat also known as the Jesus Boat was an ancient fishing boat from the 1st century
CE (the time of Jesus Christ), discovered in 1986 on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee in
Israel. The remains of the boat, 27 feet (8.27 meters) long, 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) wide and with a
maximum preserved height of 4.3 feet (1.3 meters), first appeared during a drought, when the waters
of the Sea (actually a great fresh-water lake) receded.
Discovery and excavation
The remains of the boat were found by brothers Moshe and Yuval Lufan, fishermen from Kibbutz Ginnosar.
The brothers were keen amateur archaeologists with an interest in discovering artifacts from Israel's
past. It had always been their hope to one day discover a boat in the Sea of Galilee, where they and
generations of their family had fished. When drought reduced the water-level of the lake, the two
brothers examined the newly exposed beach and stumbled across the remains of the boat buried in the
The brothers reported their discovery to the authorities who sent out a team of archaeologists to
investigate. Realising that the remains of the boat were of tremendous historical importance to Jews and
Christians alike, a secret archaeological dig followed, undertaken by members of Kibbutz Ginosar, the
Israel Antiquities Authority, and numerous volunteers. Rumour spread that the boat was full of gold and
the dig had to be guarded night and day. Excavating the boat from the mud without damaging it, quickly
enough to extract it before the water rose again, was a difficult process which lasted 12 days and
nights. The boat was then submerged in a chemical bath for 7 years before it could be displayed at the
Yigal Allon Museum in Kibbutz Ginosar.
Physical Parameters -
The boat's construction conforms to other boats constructed in that part of the Mediterranean during the
period between 100 BC and 200 AD. Constructed primarily of ceder planks joined together by Pegged
mortise-and-tenon joints and nails, the boat is shallow drafted with a flat bottom, allowing it to
get very close to the shore while fishing. However, the boat is composed of ten different wood types,
suggesting either a wood shortage or that the boat was made of scrap wood and had undergone extensive
and repeated repairs. The boat was row-able, with four staggered rowers and also had a mast
allowing the fisherman to sail the boat.
Dating the boat -
The boat has been dated to 40 BCE (plus or minus 80 years) based on radiocarbon dating, and 50 BCE to
50 CE based on pottery (including a cooking pot and lamp) and nails found in the boat, as well as hull
construction techniques. The evidence of repeated repairs shows the boat was used for several
decades, perhaps nearly a century. When its fishermen owners thought it was beyond repair, they removed
all useful wooden parts and the hull eventually sank to the bottom of the lake. There it was covered
with mud which prevented bacterial decomposition.
Historical importance -
The Sea of Galilee Boat is historically important to Jews as an example of the type of boat used by
their ancestors in the 1st century for both fishing and transportation across the lake. Previously only
references made by Roman authors, the Bible and mosaics had provided archeologists insight into the
construction of these types of vessels. The boat is also important to Christians because this was the
sort of boat used by Jesus and his disciples, several of whom were fishermen. Boats such as this played
a large role in Jesus' life and ministry, and are mentioned 50 times in the Gospels, though there is no
evidence connecting the Sea of Galilee Boat itself to Jesus or his disciples.