Watch: 2,000-year-old mikveh transported to permanent site

2,000-year-old mikveh unearthed during excavations near Hamovil Junction moved in complex operation to Kibbutz Hanaton area.

Yedidya ben Ohr ,

Mikveh discovered
Mikveh discovered
Yaniv Berman/Antiquities Authority

A 2,000-year-old mikveh weighing 57 tons, which was exposed north of Hamovil Junction, was hoisted by crane and transported on a heavy equipment carrier, on its way to a new permanent site in Kibbutz Hanaton.

Archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority began prior to constructing a central interchange at Hamovil Junction in the Lower Galilee, at the initiative of Netivei Yisrael, recently revealed the remains of an agricultural farm from the Second Temple period, including a magnificent mikveh.

This is the first Jewish agricultural farm discovered in the Galilee. The excavations were conducted with the help of workers from the village of Manda, students of pre-military preparatory schools, and volunteers from the surrounding localities, including residents of the nearby Kibbutz Hanaton.

According to the directors of the excavation, Abed Ibrahim and Dr. Walid Atrash of the Israel Antiquities Authority: "The magnificent mikveh unearthed in the excavation is of an ancient type called 'Jerusalem' - with a narrow entrance and a wide staircase, covered with plaster characteristic of Second Temple-period mikvahs. The agricultural farm in which the mikveh is located existed until it was destroyed in an earthquake in 363 CE. It was restored and rebuilt and continued to exist throughout the Byzantine period - until the 6th century CE."

The existence of a tahara facility indicates that the residents of the farm were Jews, who led a religious and traditional way of life, and used to keep tahara as a commandment of the Torah.

The mikvahs were used in daily life among the Jews before the destruction of the Temple and especially after it, to the present day. During the Roman period, mikvahs were built in Jewish villages and farms near agricultural installations such as oil presses, work houses, and wineries. Prior to working with agricultural produce, farmers used to immerse in the mikveh to handle agricultural produce, such as olive oil and wine, in purity.

According to Ibrahim and Dr. Atrash, “The discovery of the mikveh in Beit Hava changes what we knew about the way of life of Jews during the Second Temple period. Until now, since Jewish farms were not known in the Galilee, it was common to think that Jews in Roman times did not settle on farms outside villages or cities. The discovery of the Jewish agricultural farm away from the village of Sheikhin and the largest Jewish city at the time, Tzipori, shows that Jews also lived on agricultural farms, which may have served as the agricultural hinterland of the city of Tzipori. According to the archaeologists, "the complex operation was made possible in large part thanks to the understanding of the importance of the finds and the cooperation shown by Netivei Yisrael, which even donated its heavy machinery for the operation."

Seventeen hundred years have passed since the farm was destroyed in an earthquake, and about fourteen hundred years since the place was completely abandoned, and a huge bridge began to be built in the green valley that would carry a bypass road at Hamovil Junction. One side of the bridge was built at the foot of the hill, and it needed to be anchored. To do this, deep foundation trenches needed to be dug in the rock at the foot of the hill, where the mikveh was exposed.

Since it was impossible to preserve the mikveh on the site, the idea arose to detach the installation from the rock and copy it to a protected site for display, for the benefit of the public.

The Israel Antiquities Authority, together with members of Kibbutz Hanaton, joined Operation Mikveh. The residents, who even launched a mass funding campaign for the cause, proposed placing the ancient mikveh next to the kibbutz's active mikveh. In cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, Netivei Israel, the Jezreel Valley Regional Council and the residents, the necessary funding was obtained to move the ancient mikveh.

In the past week, preparatory work for the extraordinary transport operation was carried out with the help of Hordus Engineering and accompanied by the Conservation Authority of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The mikveh was first hewn on all sides, detached from its base, and surrounded by a steel cage to maintain it and allow it to be hoisted. Today, to the cheers of the kibbutz children and residents, it was hoisted in the air and sent to its new place.