Archaeologists excavating a site in Reina, in the Lower Galilee region of Israel, have uncovered what they believe was a production site for the manufacture of stone mugs and bowls that were used by Jews in the area who adhered to very strict purity laws 2,000 years ago.
The excavators unearthed a cave in which they found thousands of chalkstone cores and other types of production waste, including fragments of stone mugs and bowls in various stages of production, the Israel Antiquities Authority reported.
The stone vessels provide a tantalizing link to the New Testament story of the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle — transforming water held in six stone containers into wine.
Most tableware, cooking pots and storage jars at the time were made of pottery, but “Jews throughout Judea and Galilee also used tableware and storage vessels made of soft, local chalkstone,” said the excavation’s director, Dr. Yonatan Adler, a senior lecturer at Ariel University. Reina is located 26 miles east of the city of Haifa.
“According to ancient Jewish ritual law, vessels made of pottery are easily made impure and must be broken,” Adler said. “Stone, on the other hand, was thought to be a material which can never become ritually impure, and as a result ancient Jews began to produce some of their everyday tableware from stone.”
The excavators found thousands of stone cores, the industrial waste from stone mugs and bowls produced on a lathe, along with hundreds of unfinished vessels they believe were damaged during production and discarded. The large number of cores and vessel fragments suggests that the location was a production site.
“Although chalkstone vessels are well-known at many Jewish sites throughout the country,” Adler said, “it is extremely unusual to uncover a site where such vessels were actually produced.
“The production waste indicates that this workshop produced mainly handled mugs and bowls of various sizes. The finished products were marketed throughout the region here in Galilee, and our finds provide striking evidence that Jews here were scrupulous regarding the purity laws….
“The current excavations will hopefully help us answer the question of how long these laws continued to be observed among the Jews of Galilee during the course of the Roman period”
Yardenna Alexandre, who specializes in the study of Roman Era Galilee, said fragments of stone vessels have been found in other excavations, but “Now, for the first time, we have an unprecedented opportunity to investigate a site where these vessels were actually produced in Galilee….
“The fact that Jews at this time used stone vessels for religious reasons is well attested in the Talmudic sources and in the New Testament as well….
“It is possible that large stone containers of the type mentioned in the Wedding at Cana of Galilee story may have been produced locally in Galilee,” she said.