Archaeologists find 12th Dead Sea Scrolls cave

February 8, 2017 by Dov Smith, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Archaeologists Oren Gutfeld & Ahiad Ovadia survey cave. Credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld

Excavations in a cave on the cliffs west of Qumran, near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, prove that Dead Sea scrolls from the Second Temple period were hidden in the cave, and were 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.

The surprising discovery, representing a milestone in Dead Sea Scroll research, was made by Dr. Oren Gutfeld and Ahiad Ovadia from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology, with the help of Dr. Randall Price and students from Liberty University in Virginia USA.

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

The 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 by its Director-General, Mr. Israel Hasson, to undertake systematic surveys and to excavate the caves in the Judean Desert.

Excavation of the cave revealed that at one time it contained Dead Sea scrolls. Numerous storage jars and lids from the Second Temple period were found hidden in niches along the walls of the cave and deep inside a long tunnel at its rear. The jars were all broken and their contents removed, and the discovery towards the end of the excavation of a pair of iron pickaxe heads from the 1950s (stored within the tunnel for later use) proves the cave was looted.

Archaeologist Ahiad Ovadia digs carefully in cave. Credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld

Until now, it was believed that only 11 caves had contained scrolls. With the discovery of this cave, scholars have now suggested that it would 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. "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.

Fragments of jars that contained stolen scrolls. Credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld

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 material, when published, will provide important new evidence for scholars of the archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea caves.

"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."

Remnant of scroll. Credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld
Remnant of scroll when removed from jar. Credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld

Explore further: Israel to launch expedition to find more Dead Sea Scrolls

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Feb 08, 2017
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1.6 / 5 (10) Feb 08, 2017
How did we get here, and what does it all mean? Did these folk have Absolute Truth?

The development of superstition is interesting.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 08, 2017
My initial question after seeing this article was, "What happened to the looted/stolen scrolls?" The article never answered it. Does anyone know?
3.7 / 5 (6) Feb 08, 2017
"This exciting excavation is the closest we've come to discovering new Dead Sea scrolls in 60 years"

-This reminds me of mel brooks when he drops the 3rd tablet

-God had more to say but some ganef ran off with it. Oy-
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 09, 2017
Oiy... my holy word I give you, and loose it in a cave for centuries you do? What kind of putz puts it an a jar, I ask you, and hides it in a cave? Talking to a meshooginah it's like!
5 / 5 (1) Feb 09, 2017
The point is that the scrolls being dated between 300 and 100 BC represent some of the oldest preserved COPIES of the teaching at the time. We have loads of others but are less original as they are copies of copies of copies.

Some of the text found there (in the famously complete Isaiah scroll) is still as valid in the debates and politics today as it was then:-

Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 09, 2017
Some of the text found there (in the famously complete Isaiah scroll) is still as valid in the debates and politics today as it was then:-
Not sure what you mean by 'valid'. The book was written by 3 different people

"The Three Isaiahs
Scholars have long thought that there are three sections of the book of Isaiah, each attributable to a different prophet, living at a different time, facing a different situation"

-and there were several examples found at qumran

"There are several scrolls of Isaiah found among the DSS, and their differences, I believe (though someone can correct me) are not restricted to just one portion of the book."

-and that orthos acknowledge this but dont seem to care. So what of what are you calling 'valid'?

Quotes from bart ehrmans blog
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 09, 2017
"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."

-Indeed and why not?

I just watched the movie 'Denial' about shoah defender Deborah Lipstadt and her trial against denier david irving. At one point she and her lawyers are visiting auschwitz and one asks why there had never been a thorough scientific investigation of the site.

Perhaps in both cases they are afraid of what they might find. We already know the OT describes things that never happened and people who never existed. What perfect god obliterates evidence and replaces it with totally convincing contrary evidence in order to judge our preference for faith over reason?

What god would lie to us in order to ascertain how much we trust him?

The people of jacob (the deceiver) should be the most courageous of all in search of truth wherever it leads.
4.5 / 5 (2) Feb 09, 2017
I meant 'valid' as in people in modern politics (and other walks of life) are still as blinkered, deaf and stupid as they were then.
Isaiah called them out on it (aka Isaiah 'one' if you want to be pedantic) and I'm still calling people out on it today ('like a voice calling in the wilderness': Another famous Isaiah quote)
5 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2017
You try writing a journal over 3000 years of disparate cultures via 40 different authors each with a very personal take on the subject matter. Spread a coherent message across those authors and books to avoid data loss (like signal coding for a very noisy lossy environment) and see if you can do any better.
Especially starting from violent bronze agers who want to believe in magic apples and talking snakes and retaining relevance up to egotistical 21st century hominids who think they know it all.

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