A collaborative project between Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology and Liberty University in Virginia (USA) has resulted in a milestone in Dead Sea Scroll research. To that end, archaeologists and researchers from the aforementioned universities have successfully excavated a new ‘scroll’ cave for the first time in 60 years, with the discovery being unofficially called as Cave 12. And while the cavernous space did contain Dead Sea Scrolls, as could be discerned from the numerous jars and lids hidden along the wall niches, unfortunately all of the texts were looted, probably by the Bedouins in the 1950s.
In many ways, the find does mirror Cave 8, which similarly was found to have jars yet no scrolls. And thus researchers are looking forth to designate their discovery as Q12, like Q8 – with Q standing for Qumran. Historically, Khirbet Qumran was a Hellenistic period Jewish settlement (in eastern Judaean Desert) in vicinity to the (now) 12 caves that contained the Dead Sea Scrolls. And as for the value of the scrolls themselves, the texts are believed to include the second-oldest known surviving manuscripts of works that were later incorporated in the Hebrew Bible canon. This is what Dr. Oren Gutfeld, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, and director of the excavation, had to say –
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. 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.
So in terms physical evidence, beyond just jars and lids, the archaeologists were also able to find scroll wrapping fragments, strings (used for tying the scrolls), along with worked leather pieces. Additionally, the researchers discovered a bevy of other items like pottery pieces, flint blades and arrowheads, and a semi-precious stone – all hinting at the usage of the cave even during the Chalcolithic and the Neolithic periods.
Lastly, according to the archaeologists, the discovery of the 12th cave is just the beginning of their research scope. To that end, they are even looking forth to analyse the historical ‘connection’ between the caves and the scrolls, along with the potential to even discover a new scroll material. As Israel Hasson, Director-General of the Israel Antiquities Authority, made it clear –
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.
The excavation project was supported by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and is a part of the new “Operation Scroll” launched at the IAA.
Source: Hebrew University of Jerusalem / Images Credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld