For the first time in 60 years, archaeologists have discovered a new fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a cache of ancient Jewish and Hebrew religious manuscripts uncovered in the Qumran Caves on the northern shore of the Dead Sea.
The Israel Antiquities Authority, which carried out the excavations, believes the new scroll, written in Greek, is actually a missing part of the “Book of the 12 Minor Prophets” scroll, first discovered in 1961. It contains verses from Zechariah 8:16-17 and Nahum 1:5-6. The minor differences in the wording compared to other known manuscripts are important in helping shape our understanding of the evolution of the standardized Hebrew Bible.
“When we think about the biblical text, we think about something very static. It wasn’t static. There are slight differences and some of those differences are important,” Joe Uziel, head of the antiquities authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls unit, told the Associated Press.
The first Dead Sea Scroll was found by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947 in one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.
Dating from the third century BC to the first century AD, the parchment and papyrus manuscripts contain the earliest known texts from the Hebrew Bible, as well as other apocryphal writings. (Fragments of the scrolls that came on the market after 2002, some of which were infamously purchased by the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., are now believed to be forgeries.)
The new fragments were uncovered in the so-called “Cave of Horror,” where archaeologists in the 1950s found skeletons of men, women, and children killed during the Bar Kokhba revolt, a Jewish rebellion against Rome circa 132 to 136, during the reign of Emperor Hadrian.
Evidence of Roman encampments on the cliff above the cave suggests that the rebels remained under siege until they died of starvation. The only way to access the cave is by rope, lowering down some 200 feet.
“The desert team showed exceptional courage, dedication and devotion to purpose, rappelling down to caves located between heaven and earth,” Israel Hasson, the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, told the . The archaeologists then went “digging and sifting through [the caves], enduring thick and suffocating dust, and returning with gifts of immeasurable worth for mankind.”
There have been extensive excavations in the Qumran Caves since 2017, carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority in an effort to prevent looters from getting their hands on historic artifacts in the desert’s remote caves.
“For the first time in 70 years, we were able to preempt the plunderers,” Amir Ganor, head of the antiquities theft prevention unit, told the AP.
The new Dead Sea Scroll is among several recent archaeological finds, including a partially mummified 6,000-year-old skeleton of a child, Jewish coins from the time of the Bar Kokhba rebellion, ancient arrowheads, and a 10,500-year-old basket, kept intact—lid and all—over the millennia thanks to the desert’s hot, arid environment.
“The child’s skeleton and the cloth wrapping were remarkably well preserved,” antiquities authority historian Ronit Lupu told the . “Because of the climatic conditions in the cave, a process of natural mummification had taken place; the skin, tendons, and even the hair were partially preserved, despite the passage of time.”
Teenagers from the Nofei Prat pre-military academy were responsible for the basket discovery, which the Israel Antiquities Authority believes may be the oldest-known basket in the world. Made from woven reeds, it is from the Neolithic period, predating the development of pottery in the region.
See more photos of the discoveries below.