Following the construction of the separation fence in the southern part of the Valley of Elah a trial excavation was conducted at Horbat Tsur (map ref. 201358/618034). The site, which is named after a tributary of Nahal Elah, does not appear in the different surveys previously conducted and was only discovered in the surveys recently carried out there along the border. The site is located on the eastern bank of Nahal Elah and includes finds that date from the Hellenistic period to the Early Islamic period. The trial excavations that were conducted in the northern part of the site exposed a complex comprising a bathhouse and two churches that are built atop each other.
The bathhouse is a circular type and was discovered almost in its entirety. The bathhouse has two phases: a Late Roman or Early Byzantine phase and a Late Byzantine phase. The first phase included an opening from the east and a foyer through which one entered into the frigidarium where there is a polychrome mosaic floor. There apparently was a fountain or bathtub that stood in the middle of the frigidarium. Two passages led from the frigidarium to the tepidarium and the caldarium, which are linked by a third passage. The tepidarium was paved with a mosaic floor atop a suspensura and the walls were lined with marble tiles. In the caldarium a complete hypocaust system was discovered including the furnace in the western part of the room. In the bathhouse’s second phase the frigidarium was annexed to the church and was turned into a baptistery.
Two Byzantine churches built atop each other were discovered south of the bathhouse. The earlier church was erected before the sixth century CE and included a hewn apse without pastophoria in the east. The church’s altar was paved with a polychrome mosaic decorated with a geometric pattern and the baptistery was paved with a white mosaic. The later church that was built there dates to the beginning of the sixth century and included a built apse with pastophoria and polychrome mosaics adorned with geometric patterns in the baptistery. The altar was paved with a decorated mosaic, of which only a few sections have survived. Pieces of the chancel around the altar were discovered, including a limestone screen in a lattice pattern decorated with birds and grape tendrils.
The exposure of these churches, including the early church, characterizes the southeastern region of the Valley of Elah where there was an abundance of churches beginning from the fifth century CE.