During May 2006, an excavation was conducted at Khirbat Janba (Permit No. A-4793*; map ref. NIG 21379–82/58520–23; OIG 16379–82/08520–23), prior to the construction of the separation fence from Mezadot Yehuda to Mizpe Shalem. The excavation, carried out on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Ministry of Defense, was directed by I. Peretz, with the assistance of H. Lavi (administration), A. Hajian, V. Essman and V. Pirsky (surveying and drafting), M. Haiman (photography), I. Berin (final plans), C. Hersch (pottery drawing), E. Aladjem and H. Khalaily (flint implements) and Y. Gorin-Rosen and N. Katsnelson (glass). Additional assistance was provided by N.S. Paran, F. Sonntag and Y. Baumgarten.
The site is situated 3.5 km southeast of Mezadot Yehuda and Samoa‘ in the southern part of the Hebron Highlands. The ruin is occupied today by residents of the village of Yatah. J. Ori visited the site in 1928 and reported the presence of ruins, roughly hewn masonry stones in secondary use, water cisterns and caves (IAA Archive/Mandate Folder 76). Part of a Natufian site had previously been excavated to the south and east of the current excavation (Permit No. A-4795). Two areas (A, B; Fig. 1) were opened. Area A, where seven features were excavated (F1–7), extended across a flat tract to the eastern bank of Nahal Tov; seven other features (F8–14; some are not marked in plan) were excavated in Area B, which extended across a rocky hill. Water cisterns, stone walls, rock-cuttings and cupmarks were discovered and several soundings that were devoid of antiquities were excavated.
F1, F7 (Figs. 2, 3). A water cistern (F1) hewn in limestone bedrock and coated with gray plaster. The cistern had two apertures and was filled with alluvium. The southern circular aperture (diam. 0.6 m), blocked by a large stone, was used for drawing water. The northern irregular aperture (max. width 1.1. m) was used for collecting rain water. Building additions were noted in the northern and western walls of the cistern. A curved wall (W4; length 1.1. m, max. width 0.6 m, height 0.37 m) of one or two rows of medium-sized limestone (0.35 × 0.37 × 0.40 m), some were roughly hewn, was built near the northern aperture of the cistern; the eastern side of the stones was bonded with gray cement. Wall 4 abutted another wall on its west (W3; length 1.5 m, width 0.5–0.7 m, height 0.71 m). The dry construction of W3 utilized mostly medium-size fieldstones (0.13 × 0.28 × 0.40 m), except for the section that abutted W4. A fill of soil and stones (L102) near the southern side of W3 contained mixed body fragments of jars and jugs from the Early Roman period. West of the cistern and Walls 3 and 4, another wall (W1; preserved length 20 m, width 0.35 m, height 0.31 m) that was built of one row of different-sized fieldstones, without bonding material, was discovered. West of W1 was a large heap of stones (Loci 103, 110) that may be the debris removed from the cistern when it was originally quarried or cleaned.
A sounding (F7), conducted in the southeastern extension of W1, ascertained that the wall was founded on grayish brown soil, like that which covered Walls 3 and 4 and therefore, it probably post-dated the cistern. The finds in the excavation included flint implements of the Natufian culture that were swept over from the adjacent prehistoric site, rims of a jar and a jug from the Early Roman period (Fig. 4:1, 2) and a fragment of a molded glass bowl, decorated with horizontal engravings on the interior and dating to the Hellenistic–Early Roman periods (first century BCE; Fig. 4:3).
F2 (Figs. 5, 6). A cave hewn in limestone bedrock that was adapted for use as a water cistern (7 × 7 m, depth 3 m), in which two apertures were installed. The southern one was elliptical (width 0.7 m) and used for drawing water and the northern aperture (0.9 × 2.0 m) was used to collect rain water. Ribbed jar fragments, dating to the Roman and Byzantine periods, were mixed in the gray plaster that coated the cistern. Fragments of plaster and potsherds were discovered on the bedrock floor of the cistern (L114), which was adapted for use as a shelter for shepherds once it no longer served for storing water. A wall (W2; preserved length 4.7 m, width 0.45–0.70 m, height 0.16–0.32 m) that was built of a single row of different-sized fieldstones was exposed west of the cistern.
F3. Two curb walls, which delimited the eastern and western sides of a road that led to the adjacent Arab village. Another wall (fence? stone heap?) was exposed west of the curb walls and abutted the western curb wall of the road. The curb walls resemble modern walls that delimit the continuation of the road near the village; hence, their date may be the same. It is also possible that another wall, which abutted one of the curb walls, dated to the same time as well.
F4. A heap of soil surrounded by stones; the remains do not appear to be ancient. Several flint items, swept from the adjacent prehistoric site, were discovered.
F5 (Fig. 7). A rock-hewn installation that consisted of a rectangular pit (L120; 0.27 × 1.35 m) and a shallow channel (length 4.5 m, width 0.2 m, depth 6 cm) to its south. The installation was located to the east of and at a higher level than Cistern F2 and it can therefore be assumed that the channel and the pit, which served as a settling pit, were meant to convey rainwater to Cistern F2.
F6. Pebbles and flint items, which dated to the Late Natufian period and were swept from the nearby prehistoric site, were discovered on surface.
F8. Two clusters, each consisting of five small cupmarks (diam. 5–10 cm) and single cupmarks nearby, were excavated.
F9 (Fig. 8). A large cupmark (L136; upper diam. 0.77 m, lower diam. 0.45 m, depth 0.58 m) and a hewn shaft (opening of a hiding complex? L141; diam. 0.9 m, depth of excavation 0.51 m) to its west. Tiny cupmarks (max. diam. 5 cm) were discerned close by. The finds included flint items that dated to the Late Natufian period and worn body fragments of pottery vessels.
F10 (Fig. 9). A circular rock-hewn installation (L137; diam. 0.92 m, depth 0.51 m), in the center of whose floor a settling pit (diam. 0.1 m) was hewn. Two, apparently natural depressions, cut in bedrock (L138—depth 0.51 m; L147—depth 0.77 m) were exposed west of the installation. The finds included mostly non-diagnostic flint items and a body fragment of a jar or a holemouth jar from the Chalcolithic period or Early Bronze I.
F11. Modern building remains (a watchman’s hut?) on a hilltop; it was apparently used by the residents of the nearby village.
F12. Two openings of a rock-hewn cave or hiding refuge were located 10 m west of F9.
F13. A stone wall set on the western slope of the hill.
F14 (Fig. 10). Three medium-sized rock-hewn cupmarks (L144—diam. 0.7 m, depth 0.52 m; L145—diam. 0.5 m, depth 0.42 m; L146—diam. 0.32 m, depth 0.3 m). A shallow channel connected Cupmarks 145 and 146. Numerous small cupmarks were hewn in the vicinity. The finds on surface included a few flint items and several potsherds, mostly worn, except for a Terra Sigilatta bowl fragment that is dated to the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman periods.
It is possible that all or part of the cupmarks in the excavation were connected to the adjacent site that dated to the Natufian period. Some 50 m north of the excavation, a hewn pit that was not excavated contained numerous potsherds from the Chalcolithic or Early Bronze I. It seems that the water cisterns at the site were in use as of the Late Hellenistic–Early Roman periods (first century BCE–first half of the second century CE) until recent generations. Modifications to some of the cisterns were made over the years. Hiding complexes that dated to either one of the Jewish revolts against Rome existed, in all likelihood, at the site.