‘Einot Amitai, near Nazareth in northern Israel, is a cave which functioned as a quarry and industrial workshop for the production of chalkstone vessels in the Roman period. The large subterranean cavern, hewn into a chalkstone hillside, has yielded numerous remains of stone vessels in various stages of production, attesting to a thriving industry.
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, and as a result ancient Jews began to produce their everyday tableware from stone.
The practice is mentioned prominently in the Wedding at Cana narrative in the Gospel of John, where the water-turned-to wine is said to have been held in six jars made of stone: “Now there were six stone water jars set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each” (John 2:6).
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. The Evangelist was clearly familiar with the fact that Jews were using stone vessels for ritual purposes and 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 at ‘Einot Amitai.
A preliminary probe was conducted at the site in 2001, and the first season of full-scale excavations took place in the summer of 2016. Prior to last year’s season of excavations, the roof of the cave was removed by mechanical means, and today all excavations take place under the open.
Yonatan Adler is a lecturer at Ariel University.