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Mikve from Second Temple era unearthed in J'lem

April 10, 2013 13:38

In preparing to build a new highway near Jerusalem's Kiryat Menachem neighborhood, archeologists have discovered an ancient treasure.

Binyamin Storchen

Binyamin Storchen. (photo credit:Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority)

An archeological excavation near a highway construction site in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Menahem neighborhood unearthed a rare mikve, or ritual bath, which dates back to the late Second Temple period.

“We started [the excavation] one week before Passover and ended the day after the holiday,” said Benyamin Storchan, director of the Antiquities Authority excavation. Storchan said that while multiple ritual baths have been excavated in Jerusalem in recent years, the water supply system his team uncovered is “unique and unusual.”

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“The ritual baths known until now usually consist of a closed cavity that was supplied with rainwater conveyed from a small rock-cut pool located nearby,” he said. “The complex that was exposed at this time is a more sophisticated and intricate system.

The bath was apparently associated with a settlement that was situated there in the Second Temple period.”

Storchan said the mikve consists of a stair-accessible underground chamber that received rainwater channeled from three collecting basins hewn on the roof of the bath.

“Presumably, due to the rainfall and arid conditions of the region, the inhabitants sought special techniques...

to store every drop of water,” said Storchan.

“It’s interesting to note that the bath conforms to all of the [Jewish] laws [pertaining to mikvaot]... like collecting the water in it naturally, without human contact, and ensuring that the water does not seep into the earth, which is why the bath was treated with a special kind of plaster.”

The archeologist said that after the mikve went out of use, it served as a quarry, and the water channels were filled with earth. During the 20th century, he added, the immersion chamber was cleaned and a round opening was created in its roof in order to transform it into a cistern.

According to Amit Re’em, Jerusalem District archeologist for the authority, the Kiryat Menahem community has expressed great interest in the conservation of the mikve.

“The Antiquities Authority and the Moriah Company are working to make this delightful treasure a site for the benefit of the residents and visitors,” he said.
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