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 used tableware and storage vessels made of soft, local chalkstone. The reason for this curious choice of material seems to have been religious; according to ancient Jewish law, vessels made of stone can never become ritually impure, while pottery can and there is no way to make it kosher again - and as a result ancient Jews began to produce their everyday tableware from stone.
“Stone vessels played an integral role in the daily religious lives of Jews during this period,” the end of the Second Temple period which was destroyed by Rome in 70 C.E., explains Adler, an archaeologist specializing in ancient Jewish ritual law. “It was a Jewish ‘Stone Age’ of sorts”.
A tantalizing link to the Gospel narrative lies in the location of the cave just south of the modern town of Kafr Kanna, identified by many scholars as the site of Biblical Cana. Adler accepts the possible connection of the cave he is excavating with the Biblical account:
“The Evangelist was clearly familiar with the fact that Jews were using stone vessels for ritual purposes” he notes. “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.”
Mizzi notes, however, that so far remains of only mugs and small bowls have been uncovered in the cave: “Fragments of large jars have not been unearthed” he stresses.
While fragments of stone vessels have been found in the past at numerous Early Roman period sites throughout Israel, and two workshops are known from the Jerusalem area, this is the first time that full-scale excavations are conducted at a stone vessel production site in Galilee.
Excavations will resume next summer. Anyone who is interested in joining the dig can contact Dr Dennis Mizzi by email. Dr Dennis Mizzi (Department of Oriental Studies, University of Malta) is the project’s assistant director for the 2016 excavations at Einot Amitai (near Nazareth, Israel).