Archaeologists in northern Israel have discovered a new cave used as a workshop 2,000 years ago to make stone vessels like mugs and bowls.

The find, in the Arab town of Reina in Galilee, uncovered thousands of chalkstone fragments from what was a stone quarry and production centre, and follows the discovery of another similar workshop nearby.

The cave was stumbled upon by accident by construction workers building a new sports centre, and experts say that ancient chisel marks on the walls, ceiling and floor indicate that it was a hewn cave, from which the products would have been sold throughout the region.

Director of Israel Antiquities Authorities (IAA) Yonatan Adler said the choice of stone over pottery was probably related to ancient Jewish ritual law.

“The reason for this curious choice of material seems to have been religious,” he said. “According to ancient Jewish ritual law, vessels made of pottery are easily made impure and must be broken.

Employees of the Israel Antiquities Authorities (IAA) work during archaeological excavations in a newly discovered small cave at the Arab town of Reina in Galilee. The excavations at the ancient site uncovered a 2,000-year-old workshop for the production of stone vessels, including remains of chalkstone mugs and bowls.  Photo by: Gil Eliyahu - JINIPIX

“Stone, on the other hand, was thought to be a material that can never become ritually impure, and as a result ancient Jews began to produce some of their everyday tableware from stone.”

The excavation could help scholars determine how long these laws continued to be observed among the Jews of Galilee during the Roman period.

 

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“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,” said IAA archaeologist Yardenna Alexandre.

“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.”