Ancient ritual bath discovered in Israel

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    The ritual bath (miqwe) (Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered an ancient ritual bath, as well as a 1,700 year-old water cistern with some surprising graffiti.

The 1,900 year-old ritual bath, or miqwe, was recently discovered at Ha-Ela junction near Jerusalem. The excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority took place prior to the widening of a highway.

“We exposed a miqwe in which there are five steps; the fifth step being a bench where one could sit at the edge of the immersion pool,” said Yoav Tsur, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in a statement. “We found fragments of magnificent pottery vessels there dating to the second century CE, among them lamps, red burnished vessels, a jug and cooking pots.”

Tsur believes that the miqwe ceased to be used in the second century, perhaps following the Bar Kokhba revolt, a Jewish uprising which was brutally suppressed by the Romans.

The ancient water cistern, which is located near the ritual bath, also revealed some fascinating details about more recent history. Graffiti engraved on the ceiling of the cistern by two Australian soldiers indicates that it had been exposed until the 1940’s.

The inscriptions were read by by Assaf Peretz, an archaeologist and historian with the Israel Antiquities Authority, who identified two names – Cpl Scarlett and Walsh. The date 30/05/1940 also appeared below the graffiti.

Research suggest that that the two soldiers were members of the Australian Sixth Division  stationed in what was then British Mandate Palestine.

“The fins of British mortar bombs were found while searching the site, as were twenty-seven rifle cartridges, six of which were manufactured in Australia and fired in the region,” said Peretz, in a statement.

“The finds from this excavation allow us to reconstruct a double story: about the Jewish settlement in the second century CE, probably against the background of the events of the Bar Kokhba revolt, and another story, no less fascinating, about a group of Australian soldiers who visited the site c. 1,700 years later and left their mark there,” added Tsur.