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60 years on, more Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in secret cave5 min read

March 21, 2021 4 min read


60 years on, more Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in secret cave5 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Deep in a desert cave, a group of Israeli archaeologists made an exciting discovery. The discovery, is the first of its type made in 60 years, and dates back nearly 2,000 years!

An archaeologist at the cave. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

They found dozens of parchments of the Dead Sea Scrolls hidden in the cave, which are believed to have been hidden here during a Jewish revolt called the Bar Kochba Revolt. This revolt happened nearly 2,000 years back, against the Roman Empire.

But first, let’s back up and understand why this discovery is such a big deal.

What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Chapter 49 of the Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Credits: Shrine of the Book, the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

The Dead Sea Scrolls, called so as they were first discovered on the northern shore of the Dead Sea, are also known as the Qumran Caves Scrolls. Over the years, thousands of small, damaged pieces of writing have been discovered along with a few well-preserved manuscripts. The best preserved pieces were recovered from 11 Qumran caves.

Hebrew is the language on most of the articles, while some are written in Greek and Aramaic too. Hebrew is an ancient language that was spoken in Palestine – an area of the eastern Mediterranean region. It was revived in the 19th and 20th centuries and is the official language of Israel.

According to archaeologists, the scrolls were written by people of the ancient Jewish sect Essenes, and have great religious, cultural, historic and linguistic significance.

Experts have used a variety of techniques to figure out the secrets of these scrolls. They contain copies of books in the Hebrew Bible, as well as calendars and texts of subjects such as astronomy. These texts are believed to have been written between 200 BC and AD 70.

How were the first Dead Sea Scrolls discovered?

The Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, at the Israel Museum in west Jerusalem.

One can say that the first Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by accident. In late 1946 or early 1947, some teenage shepherds were tending to their goats and sheep near the ancient settlement of Qumran, located on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in what is now known as the West Bank. One of the young shepherds tossed a rock into an opening on the side of a cliff and was surprised to hear a shattering sound. He and his companions later entered the cave and found a collection of large clay jars, seven of which contained leather and papyrus scrolls. An antiquities dealer bought the artefacts, which ultimately ended up in the hands of various scholars. These scholars estimated that the texts were upwards of 2,000 years old. After word of the discovery got out, treasure hunters and archaeologists unearthed tens of thousands of additional scroll fragments from 10 nearby caves – together they make up between 800 and 900 manuscripts!

‘Cave of Horror’

A basket that was discovered along with the bits of parchment. Credits: Israel Antiquities Authority

The cave in which they were found is located in a remote area about 40km south of Jerusalem. What’s interesting and eerie at the same time is that in this very cave, 40 human skeletons were discovered in the 1960s, leading it to being called the ‘Cave of Horror’.

The cave is among 500 others that have been under investigation since 2016 by the Israel Antiquities Authority in an attempt to recover ancient artefacts. These caves are being protected to keep away burglars who have been known to sell, unofficially discovered, scrolls in the black market.

Along with the 80 new pieces of parchment, authorities also announced multiple other discoveries, including a 10,000-year-old woven basket, a 6,000-year-old mummified skeleton of a child, Roman era footwear and bronze coins.

Here are some interesting facts about the Dead Sea Scrolls

  • Nobody knows for sure who wrote them! According to the prevailing theory, they are the work of a Jewish population that inhabited Qumran until Roman troops destroyed the settlement around 70 AD.
  • One of the most intriguing manuscripts from Qumran is the Copper Scroll, a sort of ancient treasure map that lists dozens of gold and silver treasures. While the other texts are written in ink on parchment or animal skins, this document features Hebrew and Greek letters chiseled onto metal sheets. The Copper Scroll describes 64 secret underground places around Israel that purportedly contain riches stashed for safekeeping.
  • The longest scroll was 26.7 feet long. The ‘Temple Scroll’ provides a lengthy description of the construction of the temple in Jerusalem. 

Sources: Britannica, The Print, NBC,