The Ben Shemen Bypass

Yehiel Zelinger

The site was excavated during six months in the years 2000-2001, following the construction of the Cross Israel Highway. Two main settlements were uncovered: (1) a village from the Early Roman period (first to the beginning of the second centuries CE) and (2) a settlement from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods (sixth-eighth centuries CE) that probably served as a Khan.



(1) A Village from the Early Roman Period

In the south of the excavated area, three walls were visible on the surface, enclosing an area of 140 square meters. Eight ritual bathhouses (miqva’ot), hiding complexes and a large amount of stone vessels attest to the Jewish ethnicity of the population. The miqva’ot, of various shapes and sizes, were scattered throughout the area, though they all were close to water cisterns. The miqva’ot were evidently built according to the religious rules (Halakha): they were filled with rainwater, their volume was at least 40 seah and they were at least 3 cubits deep. It seems that these were private miqva’ot, serving individual households.


The majority of the hiding complexes date to the days of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. The disporsal of the hiding complexes and their small dimensions (compared to those found in the Shephelah area) point to the possibilty that these were carved underneath private houses. It seems that these complexes were later used also for other purposes. The largest hiding complex excavated in this area was 20 meters long, comprising six rooms.


The finds in the hiding complexes and in the miqva’ot included complete vessels and a large amount of fragments. Several of the vessels are imitations of imported vessels, but mostly they are locally-produced vessels from the second century CE – the days of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Two important finds are a coin from the reign of Hadrian and a fragment of a glass bowl, similar to the one found in the Cave of the Letters in the Judean Desert – both dating from the days of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Also were found a Hebrew inscription “בר מסבלא” on a pottery fragment – the same name is mentioned in texts from the Cave of the Letters, and a figurine dating to the third century CE, which was probably produced in the workshop of Bet Nattif.

(2) A Byzantine-Early Islamic Period Settlement

These remains are located in the northern area of the site. They include an oil press from the sixth century CE, and an arched pool from the Early Islamic period. It seems that these later finds are part of a larger building complex (Khan), which was unearthed during excavations on behalf of the Ben Gurion University.


In the fifteenth-seventeenth centuries a large limekiln (diameter 5.2 m) was built into the pool.

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