filtering of materials found in 12th Dead Sea Scroll cave. filtering of materials found in 12th Dead Sea Scroll cave. An archaeologist and student filter material from the 12th cave. (Photo: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)

New clues discovered about Dead Sea Scrolls mystery

A 12th 'scroll cave' was discovered but the scrolls are missing. Why?

In an unexpected development archaeologists have uncovered a 12th Dead Sea Scroll cave. The only problem? There were no actual scrolls found.

A pair of iron pickaxe heads from the 1950s offered two clues that lead archaeologists to believe the cave was looted long ago. So were the contents of the broken jars.

"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," explained Dr. Oren Gutfeld, an archaeologist at Israel's Hebrew University who led the excavation on behalf of the university's Institute of Archaeology.

Parchment that was being processed for writing.Parchment paper was among that which was found in the 12th Dead Sea Scroll cave. (Photo: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)

The surprising discovery marks a milestone in Dead Sea Scroll research, with this being the first new cave discovered in more than 60 years.

The excavations took place in a cave on the cliffs west of Qumran, near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. Until now, it was believed that only 11 caves in the area where the 12th was found contained scrolls. Cave 8 was the only other in which scroll jars but no scrolls were discovered.

Written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, the texts - estimated to be at least 2,300 years old - are of great historical, religious, and linguistic significance. The pages are made of papyrus, animal hides and other types of parchment.

Fragments of jars that contained stolen scrolls.Archaeologists believe the cave was looted in the 1950s. (Photo: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)

The finds from the excavation included 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 a decorated stamp seal made of carnelian, a semi-precious stone, also revealed that the cave was used in the Chalcolithic and the Neolithic periods.

Neolithic flint tools found in cave Numerous flint blades and arrowheads were discovered. (Photo: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)

While parts of the scrolls have been exhibited at museums in the U.S. and around the world, a 350,000-square-foot complex is currently being built in Jerusalem that will be home to 2 million ancient artifacts from Israel, including most of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered to date. The building is expected to open sometime this year and will continue to add new Dead Sea Scroll fragments as they are found.

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