As in many other cities, Jerusalem needs more roads confront the daily, never ending, traffic jams. One of the most ambitious recent projects is to build a highway from east to west of Jerusalem, crossing under the mount of Olives under a tunnel. Needless to say any construction work on the mount of Olives is bound to uncover ancient sites.
When the tractor shovel opened a hole into a cave, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) supervisor stopped the construction and looked inside. Most of the man-made cave was covered with debris but the walls were straight and a few pillars held up the ceiling.
A team of the IAA led by David Amit and John Zeligman dug a section in the cave – and the contents came pouring out. The cave was used for the manufacture of stone vessel, an item required by Jews during the end of the Second Temple Period (1st century BCE to 70 CE). Although another similar cave was found some time ago, this new cave is larger.
According to the religious orders of those days only stone vessels could maintain ceremonial purity. Ordinary pottery and glass vessel when made impure could never by purified, and had do be discarded. Priests especially needed pure vessels for their meals. The manufacture of stone vessels was developed to satisfy such needs and is known only in the context of Jewish culture in the time of the Temple.
The New Testament too mentions stone vessels, in the story of the wedding in Cana: “Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons” (John 2:6). Probably these were the Kelal stone vessel, which looked like big jars or craters, but are made out of stones. Such vessels were found in the excavations of the Priest’s quarter in the old city ofJerusalem.
The cave is cut in the local Chalk stone which is relatively easy to dig. The debris contains thousands of pieces of stone vessels broken during their manufacture and tossed to a corner. In addition the debris contains numberless cores of the stone jars cut out during the manufacturing process.
There is only one more cave, further north, where evidence for a manufacture of stone vessels was found, but on a smaller scale. This cave, only a third of which was excavated so far, indicates the large scale of this industry, and illuminates in a special way the Jewish culture in the Jerusalem on the turn of the first century. Excavation at the site is still ongoing and hopefully the cave will eventually will be open to the public.