Israeli archaeologists digging on the route of a planned highway have found new ruins from a 1,500-year-old Jewish town, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Sunday.
The remains of two Jewish ritual baths and two public buildings were uncovered in a salvage dig ahead of the paving of a new section of Israel’s Highway 6, a north-south toll road eventually slated to run much of the length of the country.
Both of the public buildings feature raised platforms along the walls facing Jerusalem, archaeologists say — a trademark feature of Jewish houses of prayer.
The highway will be rerouted to preserve the ruins, the IAA statement said.
The existence of the town was known to scholars from archaeological surveys, but the findings show it was more substantial than had been previously thought, Nir Shimshon-Paran, the dig director, told The Times of Israel.
The remains also indicate that the area was home to a cluster of Jewish settlements at the time — the final years of Byzantine control and the first decades after the Islamic conquest in the 630s CE.
Remains from Jewish towns dating to the same period have been found at Horvat Rimon, 5 miles to the east, and at Beersheba, 9 miles to the south.
The residents of the settlement would have made their living from agriculture, possibly from growing grains, Shimshon-Paran said.
The site shows signs of an orderly departure of its residents in the decades around the time of the Islamic conquest.
Residents appear to have cleaned out the buildings and taken their belongings with them, he said. The exodus might have been linked to a downturn in the economic situation, he suggested, as the settlement shows no sign of war, fire or earthquake around that time.
About a century later, a new settlement was built on the ruins on the first, he said.
Because of the number of ancient ruins in Israel, salvage digs are required by Israeli law before any construction project can move ahead.