Archaeologists in Israel believe they have found a 12th cave containing Dead Sea Scrolls. Although they did not extract any scrolls, excavators found irrefutable evidence that there had been scrolls at one point, which appear to have been stolen sometime in the latter half of the 1900s.
The significant archaeological discovery was made by Dr. Oren Gutfeld and Ahiad Ovadia from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology and Dr. Randall Price and students from Liberty University in Virginia. Their excavation was part of the “Operation Scroll” launched by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the intent of which being to systematically survey and excavate the caves.
Archaeologists found storage jars that held the scrolls, fragments of scroll wrappings, a string that tied the scrolls and a piece of worked leather that was part of a scroll. The fact that the jars were broken and the discovery of a pair of iron pickax heads from the 1950s indicate the scrolls were stolen.
This is the first excavation commissioned by “Operation Scroll,” and if this discovery is any indication, subsequent findings may surface as more of the area is excavated. Until now, it was believed that only 11 caves contained scrolls, so this new cave gives hope for others.
In a press release, Dr. Gutfeld says, “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 first Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1946 and 1947. More were discovered in 1956, and now we have this new finding. The Scrolls are a collection of 981 manuscripts that are believed to be from 408 BC to 318 AD. The caves containing the scrolls derive their name from the nearby Dead Sea and are located in the West Bank of the Jordan River.
Israel Hasson, Director-General of the IAA says they are now in a “race against time” as antiquities thieves are stealing these artifacts for financial gain faster than archaeologists can be commissioned and equipped to excavate.
Dr. Price of Liberty University calls the discovery “only the beginning” of the search for more scrolls. “We know of some 300 caves in the area. Our team is planning to return to excavate other caves in the near future,” he says.