There are few worse prospects for the hostess of a Jewish wedding than running out of drinks. Empathizing with such a predicament as a guest at a wedding in Cana some 2,000 years ago, Jesus’s mother Mary asked her special son to step up and “do something.”
Although he initially demurs, Jesus eventually orders servants to bring six special stone jars filled with water, which he transmutes into wine — his first public miracle. This week, archaeologists may have discovered where those stone jars were made.
A large 2,000-year-old Second Temple period chalkstone quarry and workshop was discovered at Reina in lower Galilee by a team of archaeologists headed by Dr. Yonatan Adler, senior lecturer at Ariel University and director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
A manmade chalkstone quarry cave was recently discovered between between Nazareth and the village of Kana. What is unique in this excavation is the additional find of a stoneware workshop — one of only four in Israel.
Although pottery was also in use during this period, archaeological digs around the region point to an uptick in stoneware during the Second Temple period — likely for ritual purity reasons, as attested in the Talmud.
“In ancient times, most tableware, cooking pots and storage jars were made of pottery. In the first century of the Common Era, however, Jews throughout Judea and Galilee also used tableware and storage vessels made of soft, local chalkstone,” said Adler.
“According to ancient Jewish ritual law, vessels made of pottery are easily made impure and must be broken. 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,” he said.
What is rare, however, is to find a production center for such vessels. The four locations uncovered to date in Israel — two near Jerusalem, this one in Reina, and a fourth site found recently in its vicinity which is currently under excavation — highlight “the pivotal role of ritual purity observance not only in Jerusalem but in far-off Galilee as well,” said Adler.
The small cave in Reina was uncovered during the construction of a municipal sports center. So far archaeologists have unearthed thousands of pieces of chalkstone that were scooped out from the inside of cups and bowls as they were formed, and other types of production waste, including fragments of stone mugs and bowls in various stages of production, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The Reina find is “very exciting,” said Yardenna Alexandre, an archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority who specializes in the study of Roman Era Galilee.
“Throughout the years we have been discovering fragments of these kinds of stone vessels alongside pottery in excavations of houses in both rural and urban Jewish sites from the Roman period, such as at Kafr Kanna, Sepphoris and Nazareth. Now, for the first time, we have an unprecedented opportunity to investigate a site where these vessels were actually produced in Galilee.”
The workshop is situated in an artificially hewn cave, marked by chisel marks in its creation. Inside the cave, archaeologists discovered the detritus of lathe-made stoneware — thousands of stone cores. According to the IAA, hundreds of unfinished or damaged vessels were also found.
“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,” said Adler.
“The observance of these purity laws was widespread not only in Jerusalem, but also throughout Judea as well as Galilee at least until the Bar Kokhba rebellion which ended in 135 CE. 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,” he said.