New Dead Sea Scrolls fragments unveiled for the first time in 60 years

The newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls fragments contain text from the Hebrew Bible.

Israel Antiquities Authority video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been described as one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. Dating to around 2,000 years ago, the scrolls are some of the oldest-known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. Every known fragment is precious, and now more have been found.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday that dozens of newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls fragments were found in a Judean Desert cave occupied by Jewish refugees 1,900 years ago. The IAA described the find as “magnificent and rare.”

The first of the scrolls were uncovered in the 1940s, but it’s been about 60 years since any of the documents have been found and shared with the public. The new fragments are written in Greek and contain verses from the books of the prophets Zechariah and Nahum.

The pieces were recovered from a difficult-to-reach location known as the Cave of Horror, so named because it contained the remains of Jewish refugees from the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire. 

“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,” said IAA director Israel Hasson in a statement shared by The Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority, a supporting US nonprofit.

The Dead Sea Scrolls speak to heritage and history, but their importance has also made them a target of forgeries, as the Museum of the Bible in the US discovered in 2020 when it announced that fragments in its possession were actually modern fakes.

Israel’s efforts to recover artifacts like the scroll fragments from caves is one way the country is combating looting of its archeological past. In 2017, scientists announced the discovery of a cave believed to once house some of the scrolls, but found evidence the contents had been stolen.

The Israeli operation turned up more than scroll remnants. The exploration team also recovered a cache of rare coins, a large basket and the skeleton of a mummified child dating back to 6,000 years ago. Researchers estimated the intact basket to be around 10,500 years old.

The new fragments suggest the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls is not yet complete, and that more may still be hidden in other caves.  

“The climatic conditions inside the caves have enabled the exceptional preservation of scrolls and ancient documents, which are cultural heritage assets of immense importance,” said the IAA in a statement on Facebook. “This is the rationale behind the execution of this operation – to rescue these rare and important heritage assets from the clutches of robbers.”  

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