Installation. A deep, rock-hewn plastered trapezoidal installation (L101; 2.7 × 4.0 m, depth 3 m, Figs. 2, 3) whose rock ceiling had collapsed was found slightly east of the building. Fragments from the bedrock ceiling showing remains of plaster (Fig. 4) were found on a soil accumulation inside it. A plastered staircase—three upper steps (width of each step 0.6 m, height 0.2 m; Fig. 5) and five broad lower steps of various sizes—led south to the installation, whose walls were treated with three layers of plaster, suggesting that it was used for a long period (Fig. 6). A water conveying system (Fig. 7), mostly hewn and including channels (L104, L106, L111), a round collecting vat (L109; 0.9 × 2.3 m) and a settling pit (c. 0.35 × 0.50 m, depth c. 0.65 m) were discovered on a bedrock surface next to and higher than the installation. Channel 106 was a through-hole in the bedrock (average diam. 0.1 m, length 0.4 m) and connected Collecting Vat 109 to Channel 104, which was especially deep (length 2 m, depth 0.5 m) and led directly to the installation. Collecting Vat 109 was located to the east, outside the excavation area, and was therefore not completely excavated. The outlines of the collecting vat and the settling pit were irregular; thus, they may be natural depressions in the rock that were treated with plaster. Other rock-cuttings (L110; Fig. 8) on the bedrock surface around the installation may have been part of the nearby quarry. These chisel marks continued westward, beneath the building. They apparently damaged the plastered installation, and seem to postdate it. No datable artifacts were found.
At least two layers of the same type of plaster—not hydraulic—were discovered while examining a plaster sample from the installation. The plaster was composed of crushed calcareous material, nearly the consistency of powder, mixed with soil, crushed particles of rock and clay, including quartz particles, and some charcoal and pottery sherds. Based on the typological comparison of the composition and color of the plaster from the excavation with three plaster samples dating to Iron Age II—plaster from Hezekiah’s Tunnel (Frumkin, Shimron and Rosenbaum 2003), plaster from a water storage unit at Kibbutz Zoba, and plaster that covered the earliest wall at the Qishla site in the Old City of Jerusalem—the plaster from this installation is almost identical to the plaster from the Iron Age II and completely different from that of the Second Temple period. So far, however, no Iron Age ritual baths have been discovered. Reich (2013:15) maintains that during this period, the rules regarding ritual immersion had not yet been established. It is true that the customs of purity and impurity are mentioned several times in the Bible (II Kings 5:14; Leviticus 22:6; Leviticus 14–17 etc.), but usually in connection to partially washing the body or purifying it of disease, not to a regulated immersion as appears later, during the Second Temple period. Furthermore, Reich (2013:16) argues that it is rare to find water installations in Iron Age strata, and when they are discovered they are generally related to rock-hewn water systems, cisterns, wells and channels used for collecting and conveying runoff. Katz (2012) proposed that bathing in water during the First Temple period was done with the assistance of a vessel and not necessarily in an immersion installation.
A few of the features of the plastered installation correspond to the ritual baths of the Second Temple period (Reich 2013:46–61), a stepped entrance, several layers of high-quality plaster, a plastered ceiling, the dimensions and a plastered water conveyance system that did not include ceramic parts, which might have been susceptible to impurity. Yet, there are also several features that are inconsistent with a ritual bath from the time of the Second Temple period—the location of the installation outside the settlement, its location in an open area rather than inside a building, an unsafe staircase, a covering of non-hydraulic plaster and the infrequency of water conveyance systems in ritual baths of that period. The first two features, showing a discrepancy between the installation and a ritual bath, can be explained: the installation was indeed situated outside the settlement, but it was near numerous burial caves and was probably used for purification after leaving the burial area (Adler 2009) and the lack of a structure may be the result of poor preservation or the limited size of the excavation area. Most of the installation’s features point to a date in the Second Temple period.
Quarry. An ashlar quarry (L102; Fig. 9)—chisel marks for building stones—was discovered just north of the residential building. A stone with a triangular cross-section (length 1 m; Fig. 10) was preserved in the western part of the quarry; it was not detached from the bedrock nor had it been broken while being severed from the surrounding rock. A large square boulder (1.1 × 1.1 m), also still attached to the bedrock, was found in the northern part of the quarry; this part of the quarry was severely damaged during work that preceded the excavation. If the chisel marks that were adjacent to the installation and damaged it were part of the quarry, then the activity in the quarry postdated the installation and canceled its use.
The dating and use of the plastered installation exposed in the excavation are unclear. The plaster from the installation was identical with that of the Iron Age II, but no ritual baths are known from this period. It is true that most of the installation’s characteristics are consistent with ritual baths from the time of the Second Temple period, but there are several features that are not in keeping with baths from that period. Two conclusions may explain these contradictions: (1) the installation was not a ritual bath but rather a plastered and stepped installation used in conjunction with liquids, dating to the Iron Age II; (2) the installation was used in two phases: in the early phase (Iron II), a water cistern or a plastered industrial installation was located at the site and in a later phase (Second Temple period), the ancient installation was adapted for use as a ritual bath.