In the late 1940s, young Bedouin goatherds discovered a cave in the Judean Desert, bored like the path of a giant termite into the hillside. Within the cave the teenagers found something puzzling: ancient jars in rows. The jars held the first of the parchments that would come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. On the Northwest edge of the Dead Sea in 11 caves hundreds of ancient Hebrew manuscripts where found kicked by 1956.
Last month researchers from Israel’s Hebrew University and archaeologists have discovered a new or 12th cave, inside a cliff near Qumran in the occupied West Bank, that is believed to have hidden Dead Sea Scrolls, the first time in 60 years that such a cave has been found.
The cave had already been mapped as part of a cursory survey in 1992. But the new evidence comes from a more thorough excavation. Gutfeld and his colleagues at the Hebrew University, along with a team led by archaeologist Randall Price, from Virginia’s Liberty University, found the cave as part of an ongoing “Operation Scroll.”
It was thought that Bedouin looters had taken all the rest of the manuscripts sometime in the 1950s.
The February finding was a significant discovery.
“This exciting excavation is the closest we’ve come to discovering new Dead Sea scrolls in 60 years,
said Dr. Oren Gutfeld, the director of the excavation.
“Until now, it was accepted that Dead Sea scrolls were found only in 11 caves at Qumran, but now there is no doubt that this is the 12th cave.”
The researchers said they knew scrolls had been stored in the cave because they found shattered jars similar to those that held scrolls in the other 11 caves.
They also found leather scraps that bound the scrolls as well as cloth and other items. Two mid-20th century pickaxes were also found at the scene – evidence, the researchers said, of the presence of looters.
One small piece of parchment was found rolled up inside a jug and has been sent off for analysis.
“Although at the end of the day no scroll was found, and instead we ‘only’ found a piece of parchment rolled up in a jug that was being processed for writing, the findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen,”
said Dr Gutfeld.
The excavation was made as part of “Operation Scroll”, a project launched by the Israeli government to try to uncover more Dead Sea Scrols.
The 2000-year-old scrolls, mostly written in Hebrew, though a few were in Aramaic and Greek, are considered one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century and are the second-oldest set of Biblical texts ever discovered.
Best estimates suggest that the authors inscribed their words at various points between the early 1st century BCE and 70 CE, known as the Second Temple Period. A postage-sized scrap of the scrolls — and most were found in such small fractures — can fetch a huge sum at auction.
The scrolls which include sections of the Hebrew Bible and the earliest known version of the Ten Commandments, are believed to have been created by a Jewish sect that lived in the area until they were driven out by Roman forces during a Great Jewish revolt (66-73 CE).
“Operation Scroll” will continue to the desert northwest of the Dead Sea, in the hopes that the rough hills might hold additional precious antiquities. The effort will last for about another three years, Gutfeld told The Post, exploring some 300 caves. The archaeologists cannot afford to tarry. The Israel Antiquities Authority has warned that looters are still looking for lost Qumran caves to plunder.
“We are in a race against time as antiquities thieves steal heritage assets worldwide for financial gain,”
said Israel Hasson, Director-General of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in a news release.
“Finds of huge importance are still waiting to be discovered.”
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