Courtesy Nahman Avigad

Machine-made stone bowls and cups, a small sample of the attractive and varied shapes and sizes Jerusalem stonecrafters were producing by the first century A.D.

The abundance of stone vessels found in the Jewish Quarter houses surprised archaeologists, but they quickly saw the explanation. Stone, unlike porous pottery, cannot be ritually unclean and therefore unusable according to Jewish dietary laws. If a stone vessel was designated for use with meat dishes, for example, and then accidentally came in contact with milk, it could be purified and then reused. But a pottery vessel subject to the same accident had to be destroyed—it could not be made clean and then reused. Thus, stone plates and bowls were in demand. And stonecrafters perfected their art producing an abundant supply of these dishes for the rich residents of the Upper City.