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Rare 2,000 year old quarry uncovers daily life of Jews during the time of Jesus

Stone vessels unearthed inside the ancient workshop
Samuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
The rare findings provide evidence of ancient Jewish life and 'scrupulous' adherence to purity laws

In excavations of a rare workshop dated to the Roman period in Israel’s lower Galilee, archaeologists uncovered a small cave containing thousands of chalkstone cores and other types of production waste, including fragments of stone mugs and bowls in various stages of production, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

The rare findings provide “striking evidence” of ancient Jewish life from Jerusalem to the Galilee and their “scrupulous” adherence to  purity laws, according to  Dr. Yonatan Adler, Senior Lecturer at Ariel University and director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The site is the fourth workshop of its kind to ever be uncovered in Israel, said the IAA in a press statement, adding that an additional workshop is being excavated nearby.

The items that were excavated were made of a soft chalk stone, materials chosen likely for religious purposes.

Samuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

“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,” Adler explained, adding that the finding is extremely rare.  

“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. Although chalkstone vessels are well-known at many Jewish sites throughout the country, it is extremely unusual to uncover a site where such vessels were actually produced. “

“Until today, only two other similar sites have been excavated, however both of these were in the area of Jerusalem. Our excavations are highlighting the pivotal role of ritual purity observance not only in Jerusalem but in far-off Galilee as well.”

Samuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The excavations also unearthed an artificially carved cave where  workers quarried the raw material for the production of the chalkstone vessels, according to the statement, noting that ancient chisel marks were found on the walls, ceiling and floor.

Thousands of stone cores, the ancient industrial waste from stone mugs and bowls produced on a lathe were also found inside the cave, as well as hundreds of unfinished vessels that appeared to be damaged during production and discarded.

“The production waste indicates that this workshop produced mainly handled mugs and bowls of various sizes,” said Adler. “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.”

Samuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

“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,” he added. “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.”

Another IAA archaeologist specializing in the study of Roman Era Galilee Yardenna Alexandre noted that the finding is an “unprecedented opportunity” to investigate the site where vessels were actually produced.

“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,” she said, explaining the phenomenon appears in the Wedding at Cana narrative in the Gospel of John, where the water-turned-to-wine is told to have been held in six jars made of stone.

“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.”

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