Eleventh-Graders Excavate Ancient Village in Ramat Beit Shemesh

The ritual baths discovered in Ramat Beit Shemesh. (Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

A group of 240 eleventh-grade students from Yerushalayim have made notable archeological discoveries over recent monthsof a Jewish community thought to belong to the period of the Bar Kochba Revolt, including mikvaos and underground hideouts.

The community, whose ancient name is unknown, has so far yielded eight mikvaos, cisterns, and hiding refuges, along with rock-hewn industrial installations. The houses themselves have not survived and their stones were taken to construct buildings in later periods.

The students, from Boyer High School in the capital, undertook the digging as an innovative way to reduce the costs of a trip to Poland. The excavations are being carried out with funding provided by the Ministry of Construction and Housing prior to the building of a new residential neighborhood in Ramat Beit Shemesh, in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to Sarah Hirshberg, Shua Kisilevitz and Sarah Levevi-Eilat, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The settlement’s extraordinary significance lies in its imposing array of private mikvaos, which were incorporated in the residential buildings. Each household had its own mikveh and a cistern.

“Some of the baths uncovered are simple and others are more complex and include an otzar, or collecting basin, into which the rainwater would drain. It is interesting to note that the inhabitants adhered strictly to the rules regarding [taharos] purity and impurity.”

Underneath the dwellings and rock-hewn installations, another surprising discovery was unearthed, dating to the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt —a labyrinth of hiding refuges connected to sophisticated and elaborate complexes. In some of the underground complexes, the rebels breached a cistern to provide those in hiding with access to water. One of the caves also yielded intact ceramic jars and cooking pots that were probably used by the rebels. The finds show that the settlement continued to exist even after the destruction of Yerushalayim in 70 CE.