A stunning discovery by archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has uncovered a previously unknown cave in which lost Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden.
The cave is believed to have been looted by Bedouins in the middle of the last century and no documents remain. However, storage jars and lids were found hidden in niches along the walls of the cave and in a long tunnel at its rear. The jars were all broken and their contents had been removed, and a pair of iron pickaxe heads dating from the 1950s were also found.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered over a period of 10 years from 1946 in the Qumran Caves and comprise 981 ancient documents from the 3rdcentury BC to the 1st century AD. They include many texts from the Hebrew Bible including the Book of Isaiah.
Until now it was believed only 11 caves contained scrolls. However, archaeologist are certain this is another.
"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.
"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 excavation also found a decorated stamp seal made of carnelian as well as flint blades and arrowheads.
"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."