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More Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments Found in the Cave of Skulls

10-01-2017

New fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been uncovered by Archaeologists working on a salvage excavation in the Cave of Skulls by the Dead Sea in Israel. The pieces are small and the writing on them is too faded to make out without advanced investigation. At this stage it is unclear if they're written in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic or in a different language.

Dr. Uri Davidovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, one of the scientists on the investigating team has said: “The most important thing that can come out of these fragments is if we can connect them with other documents that were looted from the Judean Desert and that have no known provenance,”

In 1947, a shepherd tossed a stone into a cave in Israel’s West Bank and heard the sound of a ceramic jar cracking, leading to one of the twentieth century’s biggest archaeological discovery: the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Cave of the Skulls was named for the seven human skulls along with other skeletal remains found there; the Cave was discovered in 1960 by Professor Yohanan Aharoni. The Cave is part of a series of naturally formed spaces on top of a steep cliff known as the Large Cave Complex; the Cave of Skulls is located in one of the starkest areas of the Judean Desert.

The Complex is also home to the Cave of the Arrows, where the extremely arid conditions helped preserve a dozen reed arrow shafts (30 inches long) for approximately 1,800 years.

The latest findings, two papyrus fragments each measuring approximately two centimetres squared, along with several pieces with no discernible writing, was made during a joint salvage excavation conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Along with the papyri remains, dozens of stone vessels, pottery fragments and flint items were discovered within the cave. Several different metal items were also found, including needles, cosmetic tools, and hobnails with hollow heads which were used to make sandals. Another interesting find was a bundle, a textile wrapping around a collection of beads, which was found inside a natural gap in the west wing of the cave. This bundle has not yet been opened, but its contents have been identified through X-rays. It joins two other bundles previously discovered by Aharoni, making up the largest bead collection ever found from the time period known as the Chalcolithic, an ancient period that predates the Copper Age.

What these caves were used for in early Chalcolithic times is under speculation. Suggestions vary from seasonal habitats for traders or herders, to hiding places during times of social tensions within the settlements located on that side of the Judean Desert.

Dr. Uri Davidovich believes the second option is more realistic. “These caves are very difficult to access, and they were used in their natural forms without changes or modifications that would make them more convenient for prolonged occupation.” He states that “This does not make sense when you think of ephemeral stays by shepherds or the like, but is much more plausible when you consider that they served as temporary refuge places.”

The new excavations in the Cave of the Skulls is just the first step in a new project of the IAA and the Hebrew University to continue exploring the Judean Desert caves, to recover hidden treasures that might still exist in the caves. “We have all the reasons to believe that there are still scrolls hidden," Davidovich says. "Several documents from the Roman times and even from the Iron Age have surfaced in recent years in the antiquities market. They must have originated in the Judean Desert caves."


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