During the late Second Temple period (c. first century B.C.E.–70 C.E.), Jews living throughout Judea went to extraordinary lengths to observe the Biblical laws relating to ritual purity. Not only could people become impure (e.g., from menstruation, sexual relations, and contact with certain animal remains and human corpses), but so too could the food, drink, and utensils that came into contact with ritual impurity. Pottery is singled out in Leviticus 11:33 as a material that was particularly susceptible to impurity and which, once it had become impure, had to be broken. By the late first century B.C.E., many Jews began to believe that stone was impervious to impurity. They subsequently began to produce a “pure alternative” to pottery—tableware and storage vessels fashioned out of local, soft limestone.a The Gospel of John relates this phenomenon in the wedding at Cana narrative: the six jars that held the water-turned-to-wine are said to have been made of stone, and we are told that this had something to do with “the purity [laws] of the Jews” (John 2:6).

More than a thousand fragments of limestone vessels were unearthed in the Jerusalem garbage dump. Although limestone vessels have been found in the past at hundreds of late Second Temple period sites throughout Israel, the large number of remains found in the dump allow us to see how common the various types of stone vessels were in ancient Jerusalem. We also compared the quantity of “pure” stone vessels to potentially “impure” pottery vessels. In one excavated section, we found that 99 percent of the fragments were made of pottery while only 1 percent were made of stone.—Yonatan Adler, Ariel University