During January 2006 a rock-hewn plastered ritual bath (miqwe) was documented at Khirbat Umm er-Rûs (map ref. NIG 202117/621894; OIG 152117/121894), following the apprehension of a group of antiquities thieves by inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquties Robbery of the Antiquties Authority. The documentation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, was carried out by B. Zissu (photography) and A. Ganor, with the assistance of A. Klein, S. Ganor, S. Bartora, Y. Alon and Y. and A. Zissu (surveying and drafting).
Khirbat Umm er-Rûs is located in the middle of a spur east of the Ella Valley. Situated at an elevation of 443 meters above sea level, it is delimited on the north and south by the deep channels of Nahal Sansan and Nahal ‘Eziyyona, tributaries of Nahal Ha-Ella. The antiquities at the site consist of building remains, some of which are built of large ashlar stones, caves and rock-hewn installations. The site has been the target of antiquities robbers for many years.
The ritual bath (Figs. 1:1; 2) is hewn on a hilltop, in the middle of the ancient settlement. It can only be accessed today by way of a large underground water reservoir (Figs. 1:2; 3) that is connected to the miqwe via a breach, recently cut by robbers. It is unclear whether the two adjacent installations were joined in the past.
The original arched entrance to the miqwe in the southern wall (height c. 1.8 m, width c. 0.9 m) is hewn at the end of a rectangular entrance corridor (width c. 1.4 m), which is covered with the collapse of large masonry stones and soil that occurred in antiquity and negated the use of the installation. A small amount of stones and soil from the collapse penetrated into the installation and partially covered the steps and the immersion basin, so that most of the ritual bath’s elements could be discerned and documented without an excavation.
The miqwe is meticulously hewn and has a trapezoidal outline (length of walls c. 3.1–3.6––3.6–4.1 m). The corners are slightly rounded due to the nature of bedrock and the walls and ceiling are plastered. Three layers of hydraulic plaster were traced on the walls. The first and bottom layer was composed of gray plaster and small pebbles; the second and middle layer was gray plaster that included minute, finely ground grits. These two layers were carefully smoothed. The third and upper layer of plaster was thin and light in color. Horizontal stripes that marked the various levels of standing water were visible in several places. Four broad rock-hewn steps descended to the immersion basin, which was filled with collapse. It is assumed that an auxiliary step was installed inside.
A large underground trapezoidal chamber (reconstructed dimensions c. 7.0–8.5––8.5–9.5 m), which functioned as a large water reservoir, was hewn c. 2.4 m west of the miqwe. The reservoir was only partially preserved due to the collapsed qirton bedrock. Parts of it and the floor were covered with alluvium and debris. The chamber was apparently accessed from surface by way of a stepped (?) corridor that was installed in its western wall and whose exact location will only be determined by an excavation. Water was probably drawn from the reservoir via an opening hewn in its ceiling, adjacent to its southern corner, which is destroyed at present.
A smaller, elliptical water reservoir (c. 3.2 × 5.0 m; Fig. 1:3) was installed northwest of the large reservoir. It is currently covered with alluvium and collapse. Based on its location, it seems that both installations were reached by descending a common stepped corridor; however, as previously noted, an excavation is required to evaluate the nature of the installations and the connection between them. A square stone pipe section with a circular hole in its center, which was set at the top of a hewn shaft in the ceiling of the reservoir, attests to the fact that water was drawn from it.
It appears as though Installations 1 and 2 were not connected in the past and therefore, one can assume that they did not share a common through-hole, thereby upholding the rule mentioned in the Mishnah (Miqwa’ot 6, 1): 'Any [pool of water] that is mingled with [water from] an Immersion pool is deemed like to the Immersion-pool itself'.
The antiquities robbers did not leave any artifacts behind that can be used to date the installation, but an examination of the characteristic architecture and the plaster that coated the walls indicates it was hewn and used from the first century BCE–second century CE. The discovery of the ritual bath is clear architectural evidence that Jews who strictly maintained the laws of purity occupied the site in the Second Temple period. Similarly hewn ritual baths had previously been discovered at several sites on the hills surrounding the Ella Valley, such as Horevot Sokho, Tel ‘Azeqa and Bet Natif.