The Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century, consist of close to 1,000 manuscripts related to Judaism and the ancient kingdom of Israel, from 200 BC to 100 AD. Ranging from Hebrew Scriptures to apocrypha to historical documents detailing various sects and traditions, they were a full thousand-years older than any other Hebrew-language religious documents.
The discovery of a cave a few miles northwest of the Dead Sea, by Bedouin shepherds in 1946, sparked an archaeological frenzy, and Bedouin looters eager to find artifacts to sell. A total of eleven caves were discovered.
Evidence of a twelfth cave dates back to 1992, when it was mapped by surveyors. But a more-thorough excavation revealed that the cave had contained completed scrolls once upon a time. Signs of Bedouin looters, including iron pickaxe heads, were discovered alongside ancient arrowheads, knives, and carnelian jewelry.
Oren Gutfield, with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology, said that the newly-discovered caves were in use by humans far before the others, as the artifacts date back as far as 8,000 BC. The only scroll found in the cavern turned out to be blank, said Gutfield, as it was only midway through the process of being made into parchment.
"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," said Dr. Gutfeld.
"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 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, in a statement.
"We are in a race against time as antiquities thieves steal heritage assets worldwide for financial gain. Finds of huge importance are still waiting to be discovered."
Dr. Gutfeld's team continues "Operation Scroll," combing the area where the original caves were discovered in the hopes of uncovering additional historical treasures.