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In the very last hour of the final day of a dig, archaeologists made a big discovery when a stone suddenly vanished into an underground blackhole. While excavating an area ahead of the construction of a new school in Jerusalem, the researchers had stumbled upon a Second Temple-era ritual bath, accessible by a stone staircase and an outer room complete with benches. Haaretz notes that while the discovery of ritual baths from the Second Temple-era are "not rare in the Holy Land," there is something particularly special about this discovery: It bears writing and symbols, done in mud and soot, that somehow managed to be preserved throughout the centuries.
The images on the bath's plaster walls include a boat, palm trees, various plants, and what may be a menorah. The inscriptions in ancient Aramaic and cursive Hebrew script may denote names. "The symbols we see are familiar to us from coins, sarcophagi, and graves, but a concentration like this is certainly unusual," Amit Re'em, a manager for the Israeli Antiquities Authority, told Haaretz. "It is possible that writing on mikveh walls was common, but not usually preserved."
However, to archaeologists' horror, the writing's long tenure of preservation seemed to come to an end shortly after the discovery was made. Exposed to air, the writing quickly began to fade, prompting emergency archaeology teams to rush to the scene. But it was too late to preserve the writing's legibility. At this point, archaeologists remain unsure as to who carved the writings and images, and what the message in the writing is.
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