In January–February 2014, a salvage excavation was conducted at Horbat Avi Zera‘ (Permit No. A-6990; map ref. 173180/606855; Fig. 1), after the site was damaged due to cultivation. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by Kibbutz Hazerim, was directed by V. Lifshits (field photography), with the assistance of Y. Al-‘Amor (administration), M. Kunin, A. Hajian and N. Zak (surveying, drafting and plan), A. Ganor and S. Ganor (metal detection), I. Lidsky-Reznikov (pottery drawing), D.T. Ariel (numismatics) and C. Sari (processing of metallic objects).
Four squares (5 × 9 m; Fig. 2, 3) were opened, yielding a foundation of a bathhouse structure. It was founded on a fill of brown soil covered with a layer of crushed limestone (L106, L109). The building was delimited by three walls on the north (W51), east (W54) and west (52); the structure’s southern wall was not exposed. The walls were built of chalk and fieldstones bonded with mortar. The bathhouse consisted of two rooms oriented along a north–south axis: a caldarium (L102; c. 3 × 5 m) and a tepidarium (L110). The floor of the caldarium was made of fired bricks (Fig. 4). A ventilation channel (L111; length 1.76 m, width 0.48 m) built in the western part of the room conveyed hot air into the room. Part of the hypocaust, which was built of fired square ceramic tiles (0.21 × 0.24 m) affixed with plaster (L109; Fig. 5), was unearthed in the south. Fragments of the tubuli used to heat the walls (Fig. 8:4–6) were found among the tiles in the collapse. A chalk step discovered in the northern part of the tepidarium seems to indicate that the room comprised an immersion pool.
A cache of tools consisting of a pickax and a hoe was discovered by the northeastern corner of the bathhouse, below the floor foundation (L112). The pickax (length 24 cm, width 8 cm; Fig. 6:1) was relatively well preserved, with one pointed end and the one broad end. One end of the hoe (length 33 cm, width 9.2 cm; Fig. 6:2) was thin and wide and was used for cultivating the ground, and the other end was thick and solid and was probably attached to a wooden handle. Such tools were usually melted down in order to reuse the iron; hence, it is rare to find them in excavations.
Another wall (W53) was exposed in the northwest; two coins were discovered alongside (L105): a Byzanto-Arab coin (645–670 CE; IAA 146594) and an Umayyad coin (697–750 CE; IAA 146595).
West of the bathhouse were two irregularly shaped refuse pits (L108, L114) that contained pottery sherds—bowls (Fig. 8:1–3), kraters (Fig. 8:4, 5), a cooking pot and lid (Fig. 8:6, 7), jugs (Fig. 8:8–10) and jars (Fig. 9:1–3)—that probably originated in the bathhouse.
The bathhouse was most likely used by the inhabitants of Horbat Avi Zera‘. The ceramic and numismatic artifacts suggest that the earliest activity occurred at the site in the Late Byzantine period and continued during the Umayyad period.