Like many homeowners, Oriah and Tal Shimshoni of Ein Kerem, a scenic neighborhood in Jerusalem, came upon an unexpected find while doing repairs at their home a few years ago.
Theirs was 2,000 years old.
Workers at the Shimshonis’ stone home discovered, under the living room floor, a 11.5-foot-by-8-foot mikveh that archaeologists have dated as coming from the Second Temple period. A staircase leads to the rock-hewn mikveh, where pottery and stone vessels that were identified as about 2,000 years old were found.
The discovery of the intact ritual bath supports the belief that a Jewish community existed in Ein Kerem two millennia ago. Ein Kerem, a first-century village, is considered a holy place for Christians; according to the New Testament, John the Baptist was born there.
In recent years, other digs in the area have turned up an ancient water system and agricultural facilities.
Knowing how such findings can lead to excavations that disrupt family life, the couple hesitated to inform archaeological authorities; they blocked off the entrance to the mikveh with wooden doors. Finally, the Shimshonis called the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which came and studied the site and recently gave the couple a certificate for “contibuting to the study of the Land of Israel.”
The Shimshonis invited the press to their home, where they moved aside some furniture and removed a carpet to reveal a trap door. Tal, above, places a ladder from his living room to the mikveh.
“It still fills up with water in the winter,” Tal told the Times of Israel. “Where it comes from, we don’t know.”
“Finding antiquities under a private home or public building only happens in Israel, and in Jerusalem particularly,” Amit Reem, Jerusalem district archaeologist for the IAA, told the Times of Israel. “Every time it’s thrilling anew.”