About seven decades after the discovery of the first Dead Sea scrolls, archaeologists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have found a new cave near Qumran. Until now, it was believed that the Dead Sea scrolls were found only in 11 caves. But researchers found evidence that the newly discovered 12th cave also housed the scrolls until it was looted by Bedouin people in the mid-20th century, reports the Times of Israel.
Dead Sea scrolls are almost 2000 years old
The archaeologists did not find any new scrolls in the cave. But they recovered broken storage jars in which the scrolls were hidden, a leather strap used for binding the scroll, pieces of clothes that wrapped the scrolls, tendons, and several pieces of skin connecting fragments. Lead investigator Dr. Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University said they recovered a “piece of parchment rolled up in a jug” which was being processed for writing.
Gutfeld believes that there could be more than 12 caves. The Dead Sea Scrolls date back to the Second Temple period. The records include nearly 1,000 ancient texts written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The documents were written mostly on animal skin and papyrus. They also include some of the earliest known copies of biblical texts. There are also secular writings describing life in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.
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According to the Times of Israel, about 25% of documents are made up of materials belonging to the Hebrew Bible. The first Dead Sea scrolls were found in 1947 in Qumran by a Bedouin shepherd looking for a lost sheep. No one knows with certainty who wrote the scrolls. But some archaeologists believe they were written by a Jewish sect called Essenes.
Evidence that pre-historic people lived in the cave
Scientists said the findings prove “beyond any doubt” that the 12th cave contained scrolls that were stolen by the Bedouin people. They are certain about this because they also unearthed remains of two iron pickaxes from the 1950s in the cave tunnel. Dr. Gutfeld told BBC News that the Bedouin plunderers might have come into the tunnel, found the scroll jars, took the scrolls, and left everything else around.
Researchers also found evidence – a seal made from carnelian, arrowheads, flint blades – that the cave was once inhabited by pre-historic people. The excavations were carried out by the Hebrew University and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) as part of an effort to systematically excavate the Judean Desert caves that might contain ancient Dead Sea scrolls to foil antiquities theft. Gutfeld and his colleagues plan to survey many more caves in Qumran.