Israel finds cave said to have contained Dead Sea scrolls

Fault cliff and entrance to Cave 12. Image credit Casey L. Olson  Oren Gutfeld

Archeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archeology have discovered a 12th cave believed to have once contained some of the famous Dead Sea scrolls, making it one of the most important new discoveries concerning this material in the past 60 years.

Between 1947 and 1956, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a series of 11 caves located near the site of Qumran in what is now the West Bank. The Q usually comes after the cave's number, but in this case, it comes before the 12 to indicate that no scrolls were found inside.

They found damaged storage jars but also lids on the edges of the cave and in a tunnel situated in the back. Storage jars, fragments of a scroll wrapping and a string used to tie the scroll were all found in the cave.

"There's no doubt to the conclusion that we have the 12th Qumran scroll cave", Gutfeld told T+L.

Evidence of looting raises questions about the provenance of scroll fragments attributed to the previously known caves. The expedition was the first wide-scale survey of the area since 1993.

Fragments of jars that contained scrolls. Image credit Casey L. Olson  Oren Gutfeld
Fragments of jars that contained scrolls. Image credit Casey L. Olson Oren Gutfeld

The excavators are the first in over 60 years to discover a new scroll cave and to properly excavate it.

Some of the scrolls were found by the Bedouin people, who sold the artifacts to antiquities dealers, while other scrolls were found during archaeological excavations.

Hebrew University archaeologists Dr. Oren Gutfeld and Ahiad Ovadia made the find - with the help of Dr. Randall Price and students from Virginia's Liberty University - during an excavation in the Qumran region of the northern Judean Desert. The discovery of a pair iron pick ax heads from the 1950s lead the team to believe the cave was visited by looters.

In the late 1940s, teenagers explored a cave hidden in the flanks of jagged hills of Wadi Qumran in the Judean Desert. Gutfeld claimed that they also found arrowheads, flint blades, and pottery in the Dead Sea scrolls cave.

"The important discovery of another scroll cave attests to the fact that a lot of work remains to be done in the Judaean Desert and finds of huge importance are still waiting to be discovered", says Israel Hasson, Director-General of the IAA. Hasson pointed out that researchers are continuously racing time to reach such prestigious places before antiquities thieves devastate them. "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".

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