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Archaeologists racing “antiquities robbers” to find Dead Sea Scrolls

Dead Sea SCROLLS
AFP
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Fragments that showed up recently on black market led to renewed search.

There are tantalizing hints that more Dead Sea Scrolls may be found in Qumran, adding to the ones found there in 1947 and perhaps helping scholars better understand who authored them.

But archaeologists are racing against the ongoing threat that antiquities robbers may beat them to the so-far unfound scrolls, Haaretz reports. It was, in fact, the appearance of new fragments of scrolls and parchments showing up on the “black market” that prompted a renewed search of the caves. Archaeologists are probing “higher and deeper than before,” the Israeli newspaper said. “Hundreds of caves remain unexcavated.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls, many of which are preserved in Jerusalem’s Shrine of the Book, gave insight into Jewish society and religion before and after the time of Jesus, the newspaper said.

“In the last few years we noticed new pieces of scrolls and parchments arrive on the black market,” said Oren Gutfeld, an archaeologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “It drove us to return to the caves,” he said, sitting at the entrance of a cliffside grotto known to his team as “52B.”

Qumran is east of Jerusalem and near the northern end of the Dead Sea. Haaretz says:

At about 200 meters (656 ft) above the level of the Dead Sea, 52B is higher than where the scrolls were found in the 1950s, which may or may not have made it an ideal hiding place.

Towards the back of the cave is a narrow burrow, packed with debris from centuries of wind and flash floods, that when cleared could extend about 10 meters. Volunteers sift through buckets of dirt.

“People thought there was nothing left to find … there just wasn’t incentive to do this,” said Randall Price, a professor at Liberty University, a Christian campus in the United States, who helped fund the dig.

 

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