Nothing seems to get archeologists into an Indiana Jones state of excitement more than the discovery of a Dead Sea Scrolls cave. In fact, they get all hot and bothered even if the scrolls have already been looted. That’s the case this week with the announcement of the discovery of what may be the 12th cave known to have once stored Dead Sea scrolls.
This exciting excavation is the closest we’ve come to discovering new Dead Sea scrolls in 60 years.
Hebrew University archaeologist Oren Gutfeld directed the international team of archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Liberty University in Virginia which found the cave near Qumran in Israel.
The discovery had an Indiana Jones kind of excitement to it. The team first uncovered pottery shards, broken scroll storage jars and lids dating to the Second Temple (530 BC to 70 CE), as well as neolithic flint tools and arrowheads all found at the entrance of the cave. Next, they came upon an unbroken jar with a piece of parchment inside. Unfortunately, tests at Hebrew University confirmed it was blank.
Exploring further in, they were stopped by a cave-in. Carefully removing the rocks, they found it had been deliberately created to hide a 16-20 foot tunnel holding the real find … cloth coverings and a leather strap that bound the scrolls inside the jars before they were broken and the scrolls removed. A pickaxe found in the tunnel confirmed to Gutfield that it was looters, probably in the 1950s.
I imagine they came into the tunnel. They found the scroll jars. They took the scrolls. They even opened the scrolls and left everything around, the textiles, the pottery.
While the lack of scrolls is disappointing, it’s not unique. There are currently eleven caves known to have once held Dead Sea scrolls (this one would be number 12) and Cave 8 was also found with no scrolls but plenty of evidence they were once there.
There are hundreds of caves in this area and this find challenges long-held beliefs about the scrolls. Gutfeld says the idea that they were only hidden in 11 caves (not to mention the Cave of Skulls possibility) is no longer accurate.
We can no longer be certain that the original locations (Caves 1 through 11) attributed to the Dead Sea Scrolls that reached the market via the Bedouins are accurate.
The expedition is part of an “Operation Scroll” under the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is now looking for additional funding, says Director-General Israel Hasson.
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.
Maybe they could raise more money if they described it as a race between Indiana Jones and the Nazis.