Ancient Ritual Bath with WWII Graffiti Uncovered by Archaeologists

October 15, 2014

3 min read

Two interesting discoveries were made recently at Ha-Ela Junction near Beit Shemesh. The first, an ancient ritual bath and water cistern dating back nearly 2,000 years, was accompanied by a more modern marking: graffiti from the Second World War.

The tandem discoveries were made during excavations to prepare for the widening of a local highway. The ritual bath, or mikve, itself is 1,900 years old. According to Yoav Tzur of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the site also contained other archaeological treasures.

“We exposed a mikve in which there are five steps; the fifth step being a bench where one could sit at the edge of the immersion pool. We found fragments of magnificent pottery vessels there dating to the second century CE, among them lamps, red burnished vessels, a jug and cooking pots,” he said.

Tsur explained that the ritual bath itself probably ceased to be used during the Bar Kochba revolt, which began in 132 CE. In its southern wall there is an opening to the large water reservoir. “It seems that in an early phase it was a smaller reservoir and functioned as the “otzar” (water collecting vat) for the mikve,” he said.

According to Jewish law, ritual baths are used for purification. They must contain water from a natural source, such as a spring or rain. Often, rainwater mikves are accompanied by such reservoirs to store the required rainwater.

“When the mikve ceased to be used the cistern’s original cavity was increased to its current large dimensions and an extensive surface was built nearby which facilitated drawing water,” he added.


When the ritual bath was excavated, archaeologists were surprised to uncover a modern artifact: graffiti on the ceiling of the reservoir which included the date 30/05/1940, initials RAE and two numbers – NX7792 and NX9168 and the names Cpl Scarlett and Walsh.

Assaf Peretz, an archaeologist and historian with the IAA, described the efforts made to identify the two men.

“Since the initials Cpl signify the rank of corporal, we can assume that these were soldiers who wanted to leave their mark there. An inquiry with the proper authorities revealed that the numbers engraved inside the cistern are actually soldiers’ serial numbers and that RAE stands for Royal Australian Engineers,” he explained.

“A search in the Australian government archives revealed the following information: Corporal Philip William Scarlett was born in Melbourne in 1918, was drafted into the army in 1939, survived the war and died in 1970, shortly before his fifty-second birthday. His comrade, Patrick Raphael Walsh, was born in 1910 in Cowra, was drafted in 1939, survived the war and passed away in 2005 at the age of 95. It seems that the two were members of the Australian Sixth Division which was stationed in the country at the time of the British Mandate and was undergoing training prior to being sent into combat in France.”

The engraved graffiti left by the Australian soldiers. (Photo: Assaf Peretz/Israel Antiquities Authority)
The engraved graffiti left by the Australian soldiers. (Photo: Assaf Peretz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

In addition to the graffiti, Peretz said, “the fins of British mortar bombs were found while searching the site, as were twenty-seven rifle cartridges, six of which were manufactured in Australia and fired in the region.”

Tsur elaborated on the significance of the discovery. “The finds from this excavation allow us to reconstruct a double story: about the Jewish settlement in the second century CE, probably against the background of the events of the Bar Kokhba revolt, and another story, no less fascinating, about a group of Australian soldiers who visited the site [about] 1,700 years later and left their mark there.”

The Netivei Israel Company, which is responsible for the road construction, financed the excavations. At the request of the IAA, the company has agreed to alter its plans in order to preserve the ritual bath and cistern and incorporate them into the landscape.

Share this article

Donate today to support Israel’s needy








Prophecy from the Bible is revealing itself as we speak. Israel365 News is the only media outlet reporting on it.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter today to get all the most important stories directly to your inbox. See how the latest updates in Jerusalem and the world are connected to the prophecies we read in the Bible. .