In late 2009, the Israel Antiquities Authority received information regarding illicit archaeological excavations conducted at the site. An inspection of the site revealed that the digging was concentrated on the hilltop and to its east. An examination of the piles of soil excavated by the robbers revealed pottery sherds, fragments of terra-cotta pipes for water and air (tubuli) and numerous mud bricks, one of which bore a stamped impression of the Roman Legio X Fretensis. On the basis of these finds, it was suggested that the remains belonged to a Roman-period bathhouse (Fig. 1).
In the excavated area (c. 35 sq m) two rooms (A, B; Figs. 2, 3) of a building were exposed, containing the remains of a Roman-period bathhouse. Most of the work was carried out in Room A. Room B, which was only partially excavated, included remains of a second use phase, postdating that of the bathhouse. A rock-hewn burial cave that had been plundered was documented c. 30 m south of the bathhouse remains.
Room A. Three of the enclosing walls were unearthed (W105, W109, W127; presumed area 4.3 sq m; Wall 127 does not appear on the plan); the eastern wall of the room was not excavated. The lower part of 0W105/123 was hewn in the bedrock (length c. 5 m, width 0.75 m, preserved height 1.7 m); its built, upper part was not preserved. This wall enclosed the room on the west and separated it from Room B. An opening (width 0.7 m) hewn in the northern part of the wall connected the two rooms. The opening’s southern doorjamb was exposed in its entirety; the western side of the doorjamb was fashioned in the shape of a protrusive pillaster (width c. 0.5 m). The threshold was stepped, and a socket (diameter 8 cm) for the hinge of the door, which opened into Room A, was hewn in its northern part. A socket for the bolt hinge was hewn in the southern doorjamb (Fig. 4). Wall 109 (length c. 3.8 m, minimum width 0.55 m, preserved height 1.45 m; Fig. 5) was exposed in the south of the room, and a short section of W127 was exposed in the northwestern corner of the room. The bottom part of these two walls was hewn in hard limestone bedrock, whereas their upper part was built of stones and mud bricks. Dozens of soft, friable limestone ashlars were discovered in the soil fill that covered the room; some of them, bearing delicately drafted margins, were probably used in constructing the upper part of the walls. During the illicit excavation, a pit (L126) was dug near W105 in the southwestern corner of the room; it damaged ancient remains and reached the bedrock.
Remains of a bathhouse hypocaust were exposed in Room A. Prior to the construction of this system, a layer of tamped, crushed chalk was placed on the bedrock floor of the room (L122; average thickness 0.35 m) so as to level the surface of the floor. An elongated vault (L113; width 0.5, height c. 0.7 m) and two pilae (L117) were preserved from the room’s hypocaust. Both supported a suspended floor that had not survived: the floor was apparently placed over the vault in the northern part of the room was set atop a system of brick pilae in the southern part of the room. The walls of the vault were built mainly of complete ceramic bricks (average size 0.24 × 0.24 m, thickness c. 3.3 cm), but broken bricks were also utilized. The vault itself, only the bottom part of which was preserved, was constructed of smaller ceramic bricks (0.18 × 0.18 m, thickness c. 3.3 cm). The bricks were bonded with light gray cement. Stone and soil fills (Fig. 6) were deposited on both sides of the vault. This section of the vault was preserved for about one meter, and its northern part was covered with collapsed stones, which were not removed. While cleaning the ceramic bricks that served to build the vault, it became apparent that several of them bore a stamped impression of the Roman Legio X Fretensis (Fig. 7). The two pilaewere also built of ceramic bricks (0.18 × 0.18 m, thickness c. 3 cm). Evidence of additional pilae could be discerned on the leveled chalk floor south of the two standing pilae.
Two other rock-hewn walls (W124, W131; Fig. 8) with openings were discovered in Room A. It seems that these walls were part of the room’s hypocaust, and that hot air flowed into the room via the openings in the walls.
Among collapsed stones in the northeastern corner of Room A were fragments of plaster, probably the remains of a plastered conduit. The excavation in this part of the room reached a surface of light gray crushed chalk (L115), probably the floor of a plastered pool or bathtub. The proximity of this installation to the hypocaust may indicate it was used for heating water. Numerous fragments of mosaic pavement that might have been part of the suspended floor were discovered in the soil fill and debris that covered the room. The tesserae, which were small and white, red, black and gray in color, were affixed to a strong, thick layer of plaster (thickness 3 cm).
Room B. Only part of the room was excavated, and therefore its plan is unclear. Two use phases were discerned in the room; it seems that it continued to be used after Room A was destroyed and abandoned. Two wall sections (W114, W132) belong to the later phase. Wall 114 (width c. 1 m), preserved to a height of one course, was carelessly constructed of two rows of stones in secondary use with small fieldstones in between; only the southern part of the wall was exposed. The wall adjoined W123. Wall 132 was built of stones, including ashlars in secondary use, which were set in place unevenly and without mortar, such that the width of the wall varies. On the top of one of the ashlars in secondary use was a hewn depression. The wall abutted Wall 105 diagonally from the west. Walls 114 and 132 were built on a soil fill (thickness 0.10–0.35 m) that covered the original floor of the room. A small section of the crushed-chalk floor (L128) from the room’s early phase was exposed.
A bedrock surface, hewn as part of W105 (1.0 × 1.3 m), was exposed in the southeastern corner of the room. A round depression (diameter 0.3 m, depth 0.1 m) was hewn in the surface near a small, shallow channel (length 0.5 m, width 0.1 m, depth 5 cm). Presumably, the round depression was originally used in the bathhouse as a base for a terra-cotta pipe that served as a chimney. The chalk floor and the walls in Room B were covered with a fill of soil and collapsed stone, which included a large amount of broken bricks and terra-cotta pipes, numerous pottery sherds, a very large quantity of large, white tesserae, which are different from the smaller, colored tesserae discovered in Room A, as well as a cluster of eighteen small bronze coins, possibly a scattered hoard, all dating to the fifth century CE. It seems that the date of the coins represents the period when the building was abandoned.
Burial Cave (Fig. 9). The cave’s entrance faced south, and was found covered with soil. The cave comprised a large burial chamber (c. 60 sq m; height 1.5–2.2 m) with ten hewn loculi (1.1 × 1.3–2.1 m) along its walls. The cave’s opening was blocked by a wall built of fieldstones of various seizes; it had been breached by grave robbers (Fig. 10). The cave was haphazardly quarried, hence the uneven walls and loculi. The general plan of the loculi is rectangular or trapezoidal. Sherds and coins dating to the Roman and Early Byzantine periods were discovered inside the cave and in the pile of earth near the opening. It seems that the burial cave was used by the residents of the site, to which the aforementioned building belonged.
The finds from the excavation include numerous fragments of pottery vessels, 42 bronze coins, clay beads, dozens of square bricks in two sizes, and tubuli fragments. The dimensions of the bricks are similar to the Bessalis-type bricks used in the construction of hypocaust systems in bathhouses of the Roman period. Three of the bricks bear the same rectangular stamped impression of the Roman Legio X Fretensis – LEXFR (Fig. 11).
The architectural remains are apparently part of an extensive complex that included a bathhouse. On the basis of the ceramic finds and stamped impressions on the bricks, it seems that the bathhouse was constructed in the second–third century CE. Two phases were discovered in Room B; the bathhouse evidently did not continue to operate in the later phase. It is unclear when the bathhouse ceased to be used; however, it was ascertained that the entire structure was abandoned at the end of the fourth century – beginning of the fifth century CE.
Not far from the excavation area, to the east, were documented rock-hewn subterranean cavities that were previously plundered. A rock-hewn ritual bath (miqveh), treated with gray plaster, of the type characteristic of the Second Temple period, was identified in one of the cavities. Numerous sherds and coins from the Second Temple period were gathered in a survey conducted during the excavation. It is possible that a Jewish settlement was located at the site during the Second Temple period. Following the Great Revolt, the Jewish residents may have been expelled, and the site was inhabited by Roman soldiers who built a bathhouse. This settlement continued to exist until the fifth century CE, when it was abandoned for an unknown reason.