If you were throwing a party in first century CE Galilee, would you use pots and tableware made from the finest local pottery, or the inexpensive chalkstone plates?

If you cared about the ritual purity of your guests, you’d go with the cheaper chalkstone.

New light has been shed on this question with the discovery of a 2,000-year-old stone vessel quarry and production center at Reineh near the city of Nazareth in the Lower Galilee. The ancient site was uncovered during the course of construction work at a new municipal sports center in Reineh.

Archaeological excavations inside the ancient stone-vessel workshop. Photo by Samuel Magal/Israel Antiquities Authority

“According to ancient Jewish ritual law, vessels made of pottery are easily made impure and must be broken,” explained Prof. Yonatan Adler of Ariel University and director of the excavations conducted on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“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.”

Indeed, the jars filled with water which the Gospels say Jesus turned into wine were made of chalkstone. And the wedding at Cana narrative in the Gospel of John (John 2:6) relates, “Now there were six stone water jars set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each.”

The excavation site in Reineh where an ancient stone-vessel production center was unearthed. Photo by Samuel Magal/Israel Antiquities Authority

The Reineh excavations unearthed a small cave in which archaeologists have found thousands of chalkstone cores and other types of production waste, including fragments of stone handled mugs and bowls in various stages of production.

This is the fourth chalkstone workshop of its kind discovered in ancient Israel; two are in the Galilee and two in the Jerusalem area.

Although chalkstone vessels have been found at many archaeological sites in Israel, including Kfar Kana, Sepphoris (Tzipori) and Nazareth, “it is extremely unusual to uncover a site where such vessels were actually produced,” Adler said. “Our excavations are highlighting the pivotal role of ritual purity observance not only in Jerusalem but in far-off Galilee as well.”