– Until recently, it was believed that only 11 caves contained the mysterious Dead Sea Scrolls that have long fascinated archaeologists, historians and Biblical scholars.
Now scientists have made what they call “one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries, and the most important in the last 60 years, in the caves of Qumran.” Archaeologists have announced they have found evidence of a 12th cave, which once held hidden scrolls from the Second Temple period.
The disappointing news is that the 12th cave does not contain any ancient scrolls.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers who made the discovery say the new scroll cave was looted by Bedouins in the middle of the last century. With the discovery of this cave, scholars now suggest that it should be numbered as Cave 12.
Like Cave 8, in which scroll jars but no scrolls were found, this cave will receive the designation Q12 (the Q=Qumran standing in front of the number to indicate no scrolls were found).
“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,” said Dr. Oren Gutfeld, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology and director of the excavation.
“Finding this additional scroll cave means we can no longer be certain that the original locations (Caves 1 through 11) attributed to the Dead Sea scrolls that reached the market via the Bedouins are accurate.”
Dr. Gutfeld added: “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. The findings include the jars in which the scrolls and their covering were hidden, a leather strap for binding the scroll, a cloth that wrapped the scrolls, tendons and pieces of skin connecting fragments, and more.”
The finds from the excavation include not 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. The finding of pottery and of numerous flint blades, arrowheads, and a decorated stamp seal made of carnelian, a semi-precious stone, also revealed that this cave was used in the Chalcolithic and the Neolithic periods.
This first excavation to take place in the northern part of the Judean Desert as part of “Operation Scroll” will open the door to further understanding the function of the caves with respect to the scrolls, with the potential of finding new scroll material.
“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,” said Israel Hasson, Director-General of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
“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.”
First discovered in West Jordan in 1947, the ancient Dead Sea scrolls have delivered more surprises than expected. When the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found, preliminary analysis showed the texts belonged to the Essenes, member of a religious sect or brotherhood that flourished in Palestine from about the 2nd century BC to the end of the 1st century AD.
However, a later review of these results has raised additional questions related to the scrolls, considered one of the greatest archaeological events of the twentieth century.
In 2016, more than 25 previously unpublished “Dead Sea Scroll” fragments, dating back 2,000 years and holding text from the Hebrew Bible, were brought to light, with their contents detailed in two new books.
The various scroll fragments record parts of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Samuel, Ruth, Kings, Micah, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Joshua, Judges, Proverbs, Numbers, Psalms, Ezekiel and Jonah.
As scientists continued to examine the ancient scrolls with help of sophisticated technology, it became possible to scan the scrolls and reveal letters and words that were previously illegible. So far, about 80 percent of the fragments have been scanned.
The story becomes even more fascinating when new surprising Dead Sea scrolls with never-before-seen language were discovered.
There are undoubtedly many things we still don’t know about the secrets of the Dead Sea scrolls.