Friday, February 17, 2017

After 60 Years, Archaeologists are Thrilled to Find a Twelfth Dead Sea Scroll Cave

Ancient Origins

A team of archaeologists from the Hebrew University were exploring a cave near the Dead Sea and claim that the cave once hosted Dead Sea Scrolls from the Second Temple period. Unluckily, the ancient parchments are missing, possibly looted by Bedouins during the 20th century, but their discovery is still seen as an important find related to the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.

Cave Number 12
 Until recently it was thought that only 11 caves contained scrolls. After the discovery of this cave, however, many scholars already suggest that it should be numbered as Cave 12. As happened with Cave 8, in which scroll jars but no scrolls were found, this cave will receive the designation Q12 with the Q (Qumran) indicating that no scrolls were found inside the cave.

Fragments of shattered jars believed to have contained stolen Dead Sea scrolls, found in cave 12 near Qumran. (Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld, Hebrew University)

The fascinating discovery was made by Dr. Oren Gutfeld and Ahiad Ovadia from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology, with the contributions of Dr. Randall Price and students from Liberty University in Virginia USA. The researchers became the first in over six decades to discover a new scroll cave and to accurately excavate it.

View of the Dead Sea from a Cave at Qumran. (Public Domain)

Dr. Oren Gutfeld, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology and director of the excavation, couldn’t hide his excitement in his statements to Times of Israel,

"This exciting excavation is the closest we've come to discovering new Dead Sea scrolls in 60 years. 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. 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.”

More than Just Storage Jars
The finds from the excavation don’t include only the storage jars which held the scrolls, but also fragments of scroll wrappings, a string that tied the scrolls, and a piece of worked leather that was a part of a scroll.

Cloth used for wrapping scrolls discovered in the cave. (Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)

The discovery of pottery and several flint blades, arrowheads, and a decorated stamp seal made of carnelian, a semi-precious stone, also indicates that this cave was used in the Chalcolithic and the Neolithic periods. Interestingly, pickaxes from the 1940s, a smoking gun from the Bedouin plunderers who dug in the cave, were also found along with the ancient remains.

A seal made of carnelian stone and arrowheads and flint blades were among the other artifacts found in the cave. (Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)

The Archaeological Significance The first Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd who unintentionally chucked a rock into a cave in the vicinity of Qumran. More texts surfaced in the years following during excavations in the Jordanian-held West Bank and were put on sale on the black market. This, however, is the first excavation to take place in the northern part of the Judean Desert as part of "Operation Scroll" - and archaeologists are optimistic to find new scroll material and evidence that will help to better understand the function of the caves.

The Damascus Document Scroll 4Q271 (4QDf). (Public Domain)

Speaking on the discovery, Israel Hasson, Director-General of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said,

"The important discovery of another scroll cave attests to the fact that a lot of work remains to be done in the Judean Desert and finds of huge importance are still waiting to be discovered. We are in a race against time as antiquities thieves steal heritage assets worldwide for financial gain. The State of Israel needs to mobilize and allocate the necessary resources in order to launch a historic operation, together with the public, to carry out a systematic excavation of all the caves of the Judean Desert."

Top Image: Remnant of scroll found in a cave near Qumran after it was removed from jar. Source: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld, Hebrew University

 By Theodoros Karasavvas

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