In the early 1970s, the caravanserai (sometimes mistakenly termed a fortress) was extensively excavated by Z. Meshel and E. Ayalon, revealing a mudbrick structure (35 × 35 m; Meshel 1978). Surface finds, such as bricks and ash, prompted them to carry out a small excavation in 1978 in the nearby structure (L141), which was partially damaged due to earthworks carried out by Kibbutz Yotvata for the installation of fishponds. The excavation revealed plastered surfaces, an east–west wall (W1) and a parallel wall located 8 m further south, as well as evidence of two walls extending northward. The excavators suggested that the structure was a bathhouse that served the travelers who frequented the caravanserai in the Early Islamic period (E. Ayalon, pers. comm.).
The 2014 excavation was concentrated along the northern exterior of W1 and in the interior of the structure (Fig. 2).
The northern exterior of W1 was uncovered along eight meters; it was abutted on the north by what seem to have been a series of installations separated by two walls (Fig. 3): a short, low wall (W2; width 0.95 m) and stones protruding from W1 approximately 0.6 m to the east of W2, which appear to have belonged to a partition wall (F1). The fill to the west of W2 (L1/00) contained modern debris along with pottery sherds and a fragment of a basalt millstone. It thus seems that this area was partially excavated in 1978, and that the excavation’s backfill was dumped here. The northern face of W1 in this area was coated with white plaster down to the level of a stone-paved floor, partially covered with white plaster as well (L1/01; Fig. 4). The neck and rim of an Early Islamic glass bottle from the eighth century CE was found embedded in the floor (Fig. 5). The western end of W1 was not fully excavated; nevertheless, an opening (L5/01) was discerned in this section of the wall, where several large animal bones were discovered. In the space between W2 and F1 were three layers of accumulation rich with finds: the upper layer (L3/00) contained pottery sherds from the Early Islamic period, including a body sherd and a neck of vessels decorated with wavy combing (Fig. 6) and pieces of plaster; the layer below it (L3/01) contained fresh-water Melanopsis shells; and the lowest layer (L3/02), which covered a floor, contained fragments of handmade vessels of the Early Islamic period, including rims of handmade bowls (Fig. 7), part of a ceramic flue pipe (Fig. 8), pieces of plaster and a brick (Fig. 9), as well as a piece of coral (Fig. 10:1) and a Tridacna shell (Fig. 10:2).
The excavation in the interior of the structure, to the south of W1, exposed the wall’s eastern part to its full width (0.6 m), where it survived to a height of four–five courses constructed of two rows of stones. This part of the structure was divided by a north–south wall (W3; width 0.77 m), which survived to a height of five courses. The wall, which abuts W1 on the south, was exposed over 3.5 m, but it continues southward under the balk. The space to the west of W3 (L2/00) was primarily a rocky fill, which was excavated down to the foundation of W3.
To the east of W3 was a room (L4/01; Fig. 11). The inner faces W2 and W3 were covered with plaster. The remains of a floor constructed from bricks were found in one strip abutting part of W3. Two probes (L4/02; depth c. 0.3 m) below the level of the floor, opened where the bricks were missing, unearthed layers of black ash and a variety of finds: pottery sherds, including a handmade bowl of the Early Islamic period (Fig. 12), part of a ceramic flue pipe (Fig. 13), a brick (Fig. 14), an earring (Fig. 15:1) and an unidentified object (Fig. 15:2) made of a copper alloy, as well as a colored or painted stone (Fig. 15:3), a large piece of coral (Fig. 16) and the remains of bones and teeth belonging to fish.
The excavation confirmed the identification of the structure as a bathhouse, as large amounts of bricks, ceramic flue pipes and plaster of various kinds, including hydraulic plaster, were uncovered. The presence of fresh-water shells suggest that water was carried to the bathhouse by way of built channels. The bathhouse appears to have been part of the road services offered to travelers in the Yotvata oasis during the Early Islamic period. That the site accommodated Muslim pilgrims and travelers is confirmed by reference to it in the account concerning the arrest and execution of the relapsed Muslim, ‘Abd al-Masih, on his trip from Mt. Sinai to Ramle during that period (Swanson 2001:112).
The construction of the caravanserai and bathhouse took place during the Early Islamic period—a period of unprecedented florescence in the ‘Arava Valley, which ended around 88 CE; indeed, the latest coins discovered in excavations in Yotvata date to 780 CE (Avner and Magness 1998:51). In addition to accommodating travelers and pilgrims during this period, the ‘Arava Valley had large-scale agricultural enterprises using qanats operated in places with sufficient ground water, such as ‘En Yotvata, ‘En ‘Evrona and ‘En Yahav (Porath 1987; 2016). Similarly, small agricultural villages, such as those at Nahal ‘Omer, Nahal Shaqaq and ‘En Hazeva, flourished in the region. Finally, copper mining and smelting (Avner and Magness 1998:40–41) attracted settlement to sites in the southern ‘Arava, such as Be’er Ora and Elot.