The remains of the earliest phase (IIIa and b; see Figs. 4, 5) include several walls in the northeast part of the complex, built mainly of two rows of worked, medium-sized stones (W103, W167, W168, W203). Wall 103 (length 7 m, width c. 0.8 m) differs in style from the other walls of the complex, as it is built of meticulously dressed stones (Fig. 6). The wall may have delimited a central hall on the north.
Walls 103 and 203 were parallel and only one meter apart, and therefore do not appear to have been built at the same time. They seem to reflect two construction phases that preceded the main construction phase of the complex. Both walls extended eastward, beyond the limits of the excavated area, and their eastern ends were damaged by mechanical equipment.
Several thick walls from the second and main building phase (Phase II; see Figs. 4, 5) were unearthed, mainly in the southern part of the complex. They seem to belong to at least seven different units, including those in the area that was previously excavated to the west (Mizrahi 2015
). One of the units was a large square hall (c. 9 × 9 m based on a reconstruction) paved with a mosaic of colorful geometric patterns and crosses or small flowers (L104). The mosaic was installed over a thick layer of plaster (L107).
A square pool (L125; c. 2.05 × 2.25 m; Fig. 7) built in the center of the hall had thick plastered walls, a white mosaic floor and two benches with rounded corners that were also paved with mosaic. The pool was delimited by four narrow walls, constructed of well-dressed stones, buttressed by a coarse of fieldstones. It seems that the construction was founded on solid foundation walls (Fig. 8).
Prior to the construction of the hall, the level of the area was considerably raised with an artificial fill (thickness c. 1 m) of soil containing numerous fragments of tubuli
and fired tiles. A bedding of crushed, tamped chalk was deposited above it for a smooth plaster floor, on which the colored mosaic floor was installed (see Fig. 8). It is unclear whether the tile and tubuli
fragments indicate that part of an ancient bathhouse was dismantled or that the builders were just utilizing raw material that was at their disposal at the time, possibly following the construction of the paved tile room discovered in a previous excavation to the west (Mizrahi 2015
A low partition, comprising two rows of fired tiles (W121), was built in the northern part of the hall. Adjacent to the north face of the partition was a large plastered bathtub with rounded walls and a white mosaic floor (L133; see Fig. 8).The bathtub was delimited on the north by W103, which apparently continued to be used in the later phases. The use of tiles here seems to reflect the available raw material present at the time of construction. On top of W203 from the early phase, c. 0.7 m east of the bathtub, was a round built element (W102; diam. 2.4 m) constructed of dressed stones; it may have enclosed an installation related to the tub.
To the west of the hall was part of a room with a small bathtub that had a white mosaic floor and plastered walls. A section of a colorful mosaic floor (L160; Fig. 9), decorated with a pattern different than the one in the main hall, was exposed next to the bath. The two units were separated by a wall, of which only two stones survived at its northern end (W106); it should be reconstructed along the entire western edge of the main hall, as indicated by the remains of a foundation and a robber trench along the northern part of its presumed course.
In the northwestern part of the main hall was an opening that led to another room with a white mosaic floor (L110), and in a later phase—a colored mosaic floor decorated with yet another geometric pattern (L159).
Three built channels (Fig. 10) covered with stone slabs ran beneath these mosaic floors; the mosaics’ bedding was installed on top of them. Two channels (L166, L201; c. 0.5 × 2.8 m) ran along an east–west axis, and the third (L180; 0.4 × 6.5 m) ran in a north–south direction and led to the two channels from the west. The floors of the channels were coated with plaster that contained fragments of fired tiles.
Two units built along an east–west axis were exposed south of the main hall. Of these, three walls with impressive foundations, three–four courses deep (W154, W170, W171; Fig. 11), survived. The units were separated by a wall (W171), with a wide entrance threshold (length c. 2 m) set in it. The walls of the units were abutted by simple, crushed-limestone floors (L141, L189, L193) laid on top of a bedding of tamped earth mixed with potsherds, tubuli fragments and fired tiles. A square-shaped element (L136; 0.8 × 1.0 m) constructed of dressed stones set on the floor c. 0.5 m south of W154 may have been a pillar for supporting a roof arch.
The latest construction phase at the site (Phase I; see Figs. 4, 5) was exposed in the northeastern part of the complex: a quadrangular built unit (c. 3.5 × 5.0 m) supported by two earlier walls (W103, W112). A pair of small parallel pools (L139, L140; c. 1.0 × 2.0 m, depth 0.9 m each) was built inside the unit; their walls made of thick plaster, and they were separated by a plaster partition (Fig. 12). The western pool was filled from the south, as indicated by a plastered surface bounded by plastered partitions that was found in that direction and may have been connected to Channel 165. The eastern channel emptied onto the plaster floor of the unit (L197), from which the water drained through a narrow channel or pipe (diam. 0.15 m, length 1 m) that ran through the eastern enclosing wall (W132). The channel ran on top of W167 of the early building phase, and from there toward the nearby streambed. The exact purpose of the pools has not yet been ascertained. They do not seem suitable for bathing because they were not easily accessible, and the possibility that they were used for dyeing fabrics was negated by the results of laboratory analyses performed on the plaster (N. Sukenik, pers. comm.).
The finds seem to point to a bathhouse that stood at the site. The bathhouse went through several phases of activity, and over the years changes were made to the structure. Prior to its main construction phase, the area was deliberately raised with a soil fill. Only then were the floor of smoothed plaster and mosaics laid, and the array of bathing installations installed. In the last phase, the "installation courtyard" was added to the complex, but it is quite possible that the bathhouse continued to be in use.
The main hall, with its installations and floors, seems to have constituted the cold wing of the bathhouse (frigidarium), as no architectural evidence of a heating system was found. Pools and bathtubs of the types found at the site and, in particular, the practice of building walls from tiles and buttressing them with curved plaster walls (see Fig. 8), are known from other bathhouses of the period throughout Israel (e.g., Bet Sheʽan—Peleg 2004: Figs. 7, 10; Caesarea—Gendelman, pers. comm.).
The complex was dated to the fifth century CE based on the ceramic and numismatic finds, which are homogeneous chronologically. These finds, however, do not reflect the vatious construction phases discerned in the complex. The pottery comprises mostly serving and storing vessels, including imported types from the Aegean, as well as a large quantity of regional ‘Jiljil Ware’, named after the nearby village. This ware has been dated to the sixth century CE (de Vincenz 2003; 2005), but with additional types of this ware found throughout the entire bath complex, a dating of the fifth century CE has recently been proposed (I. Taxel, pers. comm.).
At this stageit cannot be known with certainty whether the bathhouse was a single building or part of a larger complex. Nevertheless, it is likely that a road station would have been built in the Byzantine period along the longitudinal road connecting Eleutheropolis with Emmaus-Nicopolis, and that it would have been located near Khirbat Jiljil, where the high water table is discharged in the springs known as ‘Enot Deqalim.