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Biblical Scroll Fragments from 2,000 Years Ago Discovered in Israel

March 17, 2021

by: Kate Norman

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The scrolls fragments before conservation in the IAA lab

Wednesday, 17 March 2021 | A daring years-long archeological operation yielded rich discoveries tying the Jewish people to their homeland, including 2,000-year-old biblical parchment fragments, the world’s oldest basket and the 6,000-year-old mummified remains of a young girl.

The operation in a Judean Desert cave was undertaken by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) together with the Civil Administration and the Archaeology Department to protect the site from looting. Though it provided the perfect dry, hot environment to protect the ancient artifacts, the “Cave of Horror” was only accessible by rappelling 80 meters (262 ft) down a rope over the edge of a cliff.

“The aim of this national initiative is to rescue these rare and important heritage assets from the robbers’ clutches,” said IAA director Israel Hasson in a statement. “The newly discovered scroll fragments are a wake-up call to the state. Resources must be allocated for the completion of this historically important operation. We must ensure that we recover all the data that has not yet been discovered in the caves before the robbers do. Some things are beyond value.”

The dig, which was launched in 2017, uncovered parchments containing excerpts from Zechariah (8:16–17) and Nahum (1:5–6), as part of a compilation of books of the twelve minor prophets. Though written in Greek, the parchments contain the name of God written in ancient Hebrew.

This is the first finding from the site in 60 years, since a 1950s dig in the cave that produced a large biblical scroll.

“The desert team showed exceptional courage, dedication and devotion to purpose, rappelling down to caves located between heaven and earth, digging and sifting through them, enduring thick and suffocating dust, and returning with gifts of immeasurable worth for mankind,” IAA director Hasson praised in a press release.

The excavation supplied other rich finds in addition to the scrolls.

The archaeological team also discovered a shallow grave holding the 6,000-year-old skeleton of a child somewhere between 6 and 12 years old, wrapped up in a cloth and tucked in, “just as a parent covers his child in a blanket,” IAA prehistorian Ronit Lupu told the Jerusalem Post. Lupu noted that the child’s remains and the blanket were well preserved due to the climate conditions of 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.”

The team also discovered what they called the world’s oldest whole woven basket, again well preserved because of the hot climate. The basket was found empty, and according to the IAA, only future testing will determine what the 90–100 liter (24–26 gallon) container held.

The caves tucked into the Judean Hills yielded a stash of coins dating to the end of the Bar Kochba Revolt. Rebels took shelter in the haven and left behind other objects, including arrowheads and spearheads, sandals and fabric. An IAA archaeologist said the families likely planted those items there intending to “build a new life” after the war.

After the discovery 70 years ago of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Bedouin shepherds, the Judean Desert has fallen victim to rampant looting by ancient treasure hunters looking for a piece of the pie. The IAA undertook this archaeological rescue operation in 2017 to uncover and protect the Jewish state’s history. Yesterday’s unveiling of the finds shows the rich history the area has to offer.

Posted on March 17, 2021

Source: (Bridges for Peace, March 17, 2021)

Photo Credit: Shai Halevi/Israel Antiquities Authority

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