A Roman-era pool has been discovered in the archaeological site of Tzipori and may serve as proof for the existence of a famous ancient Jewish bathing site, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority announced during its annual press meeting on Tuesday.
The newly discovered pool, which measures about 21 by 14.5 meters and is 3.5 meters deep, was dated to the third century CE and may become a new tourist hot spot for the ancient site. A small bronze statue of a bull was also found at the site, dating from the Roman period. The ancient city, one of the prime examples of Roman-designed cities preserved in the Holy Land, sprawls on top of a hill in the western lower Galilee, about five km. northwest of Nazareth.
Archaeologists said they believe the pool likely received water from an aqueduct that came from springs in the Nazareth Mountains.
The discovery has excited the Nature and Parks Authority to suggest the pool could be the mentioned “krona of Tzipori” found in tractate Megillah, folio 5, of the Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli), which may allude to a bathhouse, using the term krona. The passage mentions a call to “wash in Tzipori’s krona on the 17 of Tammuz.”
Tzipori’s recent excavation was led by Dr. Tzvika Tzuk, head archaeologist for the authority, Dr. Yossi Bordovich and Dr. Dror Ben-Yosef from the authority, and archaeologist Ahiya Cohen-Tabor.
The entire bottom of the pool, which was exposed during the excavation, was covered with alluvium to a thickness of about one to three meters, Tzuk said in a statement released by the authority. A large section of the exterior walls of the pool were also excavated.
A smaller pool was also found to the west of the large one, dating to the second century CE. During the excavation, workers found coins dating to the late Islamic period (14th to 15th centuries CE), as well as ceramic vessels and other coins dating from the late Roman and Byzantine periods (third to fifth centuries CE).
With the use of a metal detector, the bull figurine was found, measuring about 4x4 cm.
COHEN-TABOR, a doctoral student at Ariel University, credited the discovery to a worker named Abu-Hamad.
One day, Abu-Hamad had found a nail and coin on the floor, but the metal detector continued to beep in the same location, Cohen-Tabor said. He cleaned the floor in the spot from which the beeping came, which persisted despite the floor being properly swept. It was apparent to them the object was buried within the floor’s concrete itself, so they made a hole about five cm. deep in the floor and managed to recover the figurine, Cohen-Tabor said.
Dr. Adi Erlich, from the Department of Archaeology and the History of Art at the University of Haifa, is an expert on figurative studies and suggested the date of the object to be from the Roman period (first to third centuries CE). Bronze figurines of animals and bulls were common during the Roman era, and the wavy design of the object was characteristic of other Roman bronze bull statues.
Erlich said bull figurines were often affiliated with the sacred bull in Egyptian religion, known as the Apis bull. It is possible, however, that Tzipori’s bull figure had less to do with Egyptian religion and could have been used as a symbol of fertility or some other symbolic idol, Erlich said.
The bull has also been known to be used in Canaanite and Syrian religions as a symbol for rain and fertility, or as a symbolic representation for animal sacrifice, Erlich said.Tzipori, also known as Sepphoris
, was a major city during the Roman and Byzantine eras and was considered the capital of the Galilee region. The impressively built city included a colonnade along its streets, as well as markets, public buildings, bathhouses, a theater, synagogues, churches and houses. The site is famed for its rich mosaic floors and quality of architecture, which highlighted the amount of wealth invested in the city.
Animal sacrifice has been depicted elsewhere in Tzipori, as it appeared in a mosaic of the Nile festival as an animal in a hunting scene.
Because the figurine was placed in the thick casting of the pool’s floor, and nearly in the center of the pool itself, Erlich and the authority suggested the figurine could have served as a good luck token for plentiful rain.
Other small bronze figurines previously found in Tzipori include a horse and images of the Greek gods Pan and Prometheus.
MEANWHILE, Tzuk said the authority will attempt to make the new pool open to tourists, particularly for enjoyment during the summer. Thanks to the high quality of the ancient plaster, the recent winter rains have shown that the water did not seep into the pool’s plaster and that the pool may be functional even for contemporary purposes, Tzuk said.
Tzipori was well known in the Roman and Byzantine period as a Jewish city and a hub for Jewish administration, particularly since the third century CE. The Romans also built a number of roads that connected the city to other major cities in the region, including to the port of Acre and to Tiberias. The increased interconnectivity of the city made it a flourishing point of trade for the area, giving the Romans a military stronghold.
The city had served as the seat of the Sanhedrin during the time of Yehuda Hanasi, who compiled the Mishnah prior to his stint as head of the administration in Tzipori.
A major earthquake devastated the area in 363 CE, along with most cities in the Galilee. Although it was rebuilt, it declined during the Islamic period in the seventh century.
Crusaders revived certain sections of the city and its central second-century fortress during the 12th century until its inhabitance by an Arab village, which correlates to the later-period coins found at the pool.
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