Jewish ‘Stone Age’ factory from time of Jesus surfaces in Galilee
Near site where biblical figure is said to have turned water to wine, 2,000-year-old workshop for stone vessels comes to light
In a limestone cave halfway between Nazareth and the biblical town of Cana, archaeologists recently unearthed a first century CE workshop that produced stone vessels similar to those that held the water Jesus turned into wine.
Several stone bowls and cups in various stages of completion were found in the bowels of the cave, suggesting the cave may have been been home to an active stone goods manufactory. The site, known today as Einot Amitai, is the first stoneware manufacturing site of its kind to be found in the Galilee from the Second Temple Era, researchers said.
While evidence of chalkstone vessel production has been found at other sites in the Galilee, only at Einot Amitai have archaeologists found a quarry and workshop where they were made.
The cave was found in 2001 when residents of the nearby town were bulldozing a plot of land and breached the cavern. A limited survey of the site indicated it may have been involved in the production of limestone goods, but archaeologists only launched a more comprehensive dig this August.
Chalkstone vessels became popular in Judea in the mid-second century BCE and remained in use into the Roman period. Archaeologists from Ariel University and the University of Malta who carried out the dig sought to determine whether the production of stone vessels continued in the Galilee after the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome in 135 CE.
Fragments of bowls, plates and cups made of stone have been found at Jewish settlements throughout Judea, but very few turn up in non-Jewish contexts from the period, suggesting a possible religious motivation for their use, Yonatan Adler of Ariel University, an expert in ancient Jewish ritual law who headed the dig, said.
During the first centuries BCE and CE, various streams of Judaism became obsessed with the notion of ritual purity. Unlike ceramics, stone couldn’t take on ritual impurity, making it an ideal material for kitchen utensils.
“Stone vessels played an integral role in the daily religious lives of Jews during this period,” Adler argued. Perhaps because stone wasn’t among the materials mentioned in the Levitic purity codes it was deemed an exception. Either way, he said in a statement released by the university, “It was a Jewish ‘Stone Age’ of sorts.”
Other scholars argue stone vessels’ popularity during the period was linked to “a desire to reinforce their self-identity,” choosing simple local products over imported luxury goods, Hebrew University’s Zeev Weiss wrote in 2015.
Stone jars find mention in the New Testament, when the Book of John recounts that at the wedding at Cana “standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.”
We all know what Jesus does with the water. But what Adler suggests is that “it is certainly possible – perhaps even likely – that large stone containers of the type mentioned in the Wedding at Cana story may have been produced locally in Galilee in a cave similar to the one we are now excavating.” The modern town of Kafr Kanna, just a mile north of the cave, is identified with the biblical Cana, after all.
For now, excavations of the cave have only yielded stone mugs and small bowls, nothing of the size mentioned in the Book of John.
“Fragments of large jars have not been unearthed,” said Dr. Dennis Mizzi, of the University of Malta, cautiously in a statement.
Archaeologists plan additional excavations next summer.