Byzantine-era Ritual Baths Discovered on Israel's Route 6

The ruins, dating back to 6th century CE, point to the existence of an ancient Jewish town in the Negev.

Yanir Yagna
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Yanir Yagna

Israeli archaeologists have discovered Byzantine-era ritual baths during an Israel Antiquities Authority excavation along Route 6 - the Trans-Israel Highway.

Two mikvehs and two public structures, dating back to 6th century CE, were found in the southern segment of the road. Archaeologists believe the ruins point to the existence of an ancient Jewish town in the Negev.

At the request of the Trans-Israel Highway, we performed digs along the southbound portion of the road, said Nir Shimshon-Paran, head of archaeological digs at the antiquities authority.

We carried out excavations – meant to document any relics in the area before development or road pavement work was started – and discovered two mikvehs, and two public structures, which, according to certain parameters, fit the criteria for synagogues, said Paran.

Paran said the discoveries were undoubtedly part of a Jewish town.

Here we see a Jewish town from a time when the Negev had a sparse Jewish population. The structures discovered were built with chiseled hewn stones, and both of them contain remains of a stage adjacent to a wall, facing Jerusalem. Their characteristics and positioning indicate that these structures served as synagogues, or houses of study. The town uncovered here is roughly eight kilometers from the synagogue that was destroyed along with Rimon during the Byzantine period, Paran added.

The findings provide a window into the expansion of the sixth and seventh-century Jewish town, previously only known to exist in the South Hebron Hills area.

"We were familiar with Jewish settlement in the South Hebron Hills and now we have discovered that there were also residents in the Negev. The town was abandoned at the end of the sixth century-beginning of the seventh century, as a result of the Islamic conquests. One hundred years later, a new settlement was created in the same location, the mikvehs were rendered obsolete and it appears the town was not Jewish," Paran said.

Following the excavation, the antiquities authority and management of Route 6 decided to present their findings to the general public.

Aerial view of the archeological site by Route 6, where ritual baths were discovrered.Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority
Israel Antiquities Authority workers at the archeological site. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority