During November 2004, a salvage excavation was conducted within the site of Dhuhur el Khardal, at the bank of Nahal Narbeta (Permit No. A-4286*; map ref. NIG 20625–35/62069–70; OIG 15625–35/12069–70), prior to paving the Barta‘a bypass road. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Department of Public Works, was directed by A Shadman, with the assistance of A. Hajian (surveying and drafting), T. Sagiv (field photography), E. Yannai (scientific consultation), P. Gendelman (pottery reading) and E. Oren.
The site is located on a spur east of Harish and south of the Nahal ‘Iron settlement. To the south of the site is Horbat Mahu, which has a commanding view over the entire region. This is an area of hills and ridges (110–150 m above sea level) whose soil consists of terra rossa and clay; the only source of water in the vicinity is ‘Ein Barta‘a. The region seems to have been covered with a dense Mediterranean forest in the past.
A circular structure (diam. 7 m) and an elliptical courtyard (diam. 14 m) that fronted it on the northwestern side were exposed; the construction of both was tremendous and well- preserved (Fig. 1). The complex was dated to the Roman period, based on scant ceramic finds.
The entrance (width 1 m) to the building was set in the western side and led east to a narrow corridor (width 1 m) that accessed a small elliptical chamber (L103) and the courtyard to the northwest. The walls of the building, partly preserved 2.2 m high, were constructed from large fieldstones. The entrance to Room 103 consisted of two lintels, over which stone slabs were placed. Room 103 was enclosed by two circular walls (W20, W21). Wall 20, the outer wall, was built of two rows of stones; the springing of a vault, which apparently covered the room, was preserved along the wall’s inner face. A narrow space between W20 and W21 was connected to Room 103 by way of a narrow opening (width c. 0.5 m) in the western side of the room. A floor of small fieldstones (L50) that was set on bedrock abutted Walls 20 and 21. Several worn ribbed potsherds, probably of the Roman period, were discovered in the vicinity of the floor.
The wall enclosing the courtyard (W23; length 35 m, max. width 1.2 m) comprised medium and large fieldstones that were set on bedrock. A floor of small fieldstones, set on a soil fill and large stones (L106), was exposed in the northwestern corner of the courtyard.
Based on the massive construction and the courtyard it can be assumed that the excavated complex was a farmstead. The entrance, common to the building and the courtyard, indicates that both elements were built and used contemporaneously. The building was most likely intended to ensure the protection of the residents and their produce; it was probably used as a field tower. Animals, possibly cattle, were perhaps kept in the courtyard.
Y. Ne’eman suggested that buildings like the one excavated were mausoleums or tombs (Map of Ma‘anit , Sites 7–9); however, the results of the excavation do not corroborate this proposal, due to the absence of bones and funerary offerings. The excavated complex is characteristic of the Roman period and similar complexes were discovered in the nearby vicinity, for example at Umm Reihan (S. Dar, Y. Tepper and Z. Safrai, 1986. Umm Reihan, A Village of the Mishnah. Nature Protection Society, Tower 63, Fig. 17; Complex 204, Fig. 29) and in Nahal Samtar (without an adjacent courtyard; Map of Ma’anit , Sites 5, 7, 8; ‘Atiqot 46:1–3).