Feb 8, 2017

The twelfth Dead Sea Scroll cave is confirmed and I was there.

Cave 53 (now Q12) identifying the artifacts
as they are removed from the cave in buckets and
transferred to cardboard boxes for processing.

In January of this year (Dec 28, 2016-January 25, 2017), I had the privilege of working on the excavation of the newly announced Dead Sea Scroll cave number 12 (See news links below) with my colleague Dr. Randall Price of Liberty University, USA and Dr. Oren Gutfeld and his assistant Ahiad Ovadia of Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, Israel. Several Liberty university students and volunteers also worked with us. My role was registrar of finds and it involved the proper recording and processing of all artifacts that were discovered in the cave (some 400), so I was able to see the artifacts firsthand and can verify the accuracy of those finds mentioned in the article published by Hebrew University. I was assisted by Eva Palmer of Liberty University and Dr. Lemar Cooper of Criswell College.

Cave 53, located west of the Qumran plateau, was supported by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria (KMAT), by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and is a part of the new “Operation Scroll” launched at the IAA by its Director-General, Mr. Israel Hasson, to undertake systematic surveys and to excavate the caves in the Judean Desert. This present cave is now the 12th Dead Sea Scroll Cave to be identified and will be designated Q12. For a report on Operation Scroll that was launched in 1993, see Neil Asher Silberman, “Operation Scroll,” Archaeology 47/2 (1994): 27–28; Neil Asher Silberman, “Operation Scroll,” in K. D. Vitelli (ed.), Archaeological Ethics (London: Altamira Press, 1996): 132–35.

Cave 53 is now the12th Dead Sea Scroll Cave to be identified and will be designated Q12. The letter Q refers to a Qumran cave standing in front of the number to indicate that this is now an official number for Qumran documents. Normally Qumran caves are designated with the number of the cave in front of the Q as in 1QIsa for the scroll of Isaiah found in Qumran cave 1 or 4Q175 (4QTest) for the Testimonia scroll from Qumran cave 4. However, as Gutfeld explains
“Like Cave 8, in which scroll jars but no scrolls were found, this cave will receive the designation Q12 (the Q=Qumran standing in front of the number to indicate no scrolls were found).” Press Release
Some may object that because no scrolls were found it should not be considered a Qumran cave. See BAR article. However, as Belis stated in 2016 “It is axiomatic that if linen was found in a cave, then this cave must also have contained scrolls.” Mireille Belis, “The Unpublished Textiles from the Qumran Caves,” The Caves of Qumran. Edited by Marcello Fidanzio (Brill 2016): 136. (I am indebted to Randall Price for this quote).

Some of the linen cloth collected by our team
from Cave 12 in 2017.
Courtesy of Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld.
Quite a number of pieces of the linen that covered the scrolls, as well as leather ties were discovered in-situ. In addition, Qumran style jars were discovered in-situ, similar to the pattern of the other manuscript caves, identifying this cave a Qumran Scroll cave.

The cave was originally excavated in 1993 and reported in a 2002 journal article by Cohen and Yisraeli. Although the article is in Hebrew, the English summary on page 207 of the article states:
“Two caves and a rock shelter were discovered south of Nahal Qumran. . . The entrance to Cave XII/53 spans the entire width of the cavity (Fig. 4); two pillars for supporting the ceiling and a thin wall (Plan 3 [The layout of the cave is provided on page 209]) were built inside the cave. Four strata were discernible in the excavation, but the finds were mixed in part of the area. Stratum I dates to the Early Islamic period; Stratum 2 to the Early Roman period based on the pottery vessels uncovered in it (Fig. 5:2-5); Stratum 3 to the Pottery Neolithic period (Fig. 6:2, 3, 5-1 O); and Stratum 4, in which Byblos arrowheads were found (Fig. 7: I, 2), to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period.” Cohen, Rudolf, and Yigal Yisraeli. “The Excavations of Rock Shelter XII/50 and in Caves XII/52-53.” Atiqot 41, no. 2 (2002): 207–13.
It is worth noting that the photograph on page 207 of the 2002 article by Cohen and Yisraeli miss-identified the cave as number 50, but it is actually cave 53. Drawings of the pottery and flint blades were provided on pages 209 and 211.
All our artifacts were identified with Cave 53 for processing (see the cardboard box in the top photograph).
Dust from our two sifting stations.
All the dirt from the cave was sifted
to find the smallest find.

Initially no connection with the Dead Sea Scrolls was made from the excavation in 2002, however in 2006 Dr. Randall Price identified Cave 53 as a good potential for containing Dead Sea Scrolls. The initial read of the stratigraphy of the cave in 2002 has been confirmed by our recent systematic and thorough excavation of Cave 53, with a number of additional finds (over 400) including Qumran pottery and a small leather scroll piece (7 cm). We can now say without question that the cave did once contain some of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.

Unfortunately, the cave had been looted probably by local Bedouin in the past looking for valuable scrolls. We did have one of the relatives of the Bedouin family, who first discovered the caves, working with us Joseph Ta’amarah. What an amazing eye he had for finds. Gutfeld reported “The jars were all broken and their contents removed, and the discovery towards the end of the excavation of a pair of iron pickaxe heads from the 1950s (stored within the tunnel for later use) proves the cave was looted.” Press Release

The new designation of Q12 is due to the fact the we have now confirmed the presence of Dead Sea Scrolls in cave 53, even though as Dr. Gutfeld stated no scrolls were actually found. Gutfeld reported
“Although at the end of the day no scroll was found, and instead we ‘only’ found a piece of parchment rolled up in a jug that was being processed for writing, the findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen. The findings include the jars in which the scrolls and their covering were hidden, a leather strap for binding the scroll, a cloth that wrapped the scrolls, tendons and pieces of skin connecting fragments, and more. . . The finding of pottery and of numerous flint blades, arrowheads, and a decorated stamp seal made of carnelian, a semi-precious stone, also revealed that this cave was used in the Chalcolithic and the Neolithic periods.” Press Release
 In addition
"Among the organic findings were dozens and dozens of olive pits, dates, various kinds of nuts, some whole nuts, which were left unshelled nuts, several thin ropes, bits of woven baskets, and a few pieces of fabric. The interior of the cave was covered by a wicker bed of palm and thin brush branches, which were used by the dwellers of the cave as a kind of mat. Once the first stratum was removed, findings from the Chalcolithic period were uncovered (5th century BC), as well as the Cermaic Neolithic and the pre-Neolithic period (8th-9th centuries BC)—mainly pottery and flint tools, including arrow heads, various blades and an complete seal made of red Carnelian stone." IAA reporting to YNet News
This is an accurate picture of the various finds among the organic material that we registered.
The rolled-up piece of leather was carefully collected and transported to an archaeological conservation laboratory at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. From there, the scroll was transported to another conservation laboratory under the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Tests have revealed that the scroll was empty and was most likely in the process of being prepared to be written on. IAA reporting to YNet News

If the piece of leather scroll (orphan) can be linked to one of the scrolls in existence then the designation would likely change to 12Q1 for the parent scroll. There are still more tests and research to be done on the many finds that have come out of cave 53 (aka Q12).

Map showing the location of the cave in
conjunction with the other 11 caves. Locations are
based on those published by the IAA and Google Earth.
Note that Cave 12 is closer to Qumran than Caves 1, 2, and 11.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were originally discovered in 1946 and 1947, with numerous fragments surfacing on the black market since. There are some 930 documents represented in the total Dead Sea Scroll collection, with approximately 15,000 fragments representing 600 documents from Cave 4 alone. Here is a summary of the story of the Dead Sea Scroll discovery. Also, an accessible pamphlet on The Dead Sea Scrolls by Dr. Randall Price is available from Rose Publishing, 2005.
According to Evans,
“Price thinks there may even be a thirteenth cave near the Qumran ruins. Unlike the newly discovered Cave 12, the mouth of the suspected thirteenth cave is concealed — which means there is a chance that it has not been looted. If that is the case, more texts could be discovered. If that happens, who knows what new things we might learn?” Craig Evans

It was a great privilege to be part of this historic event and to help identify the first Dead Sea Scroll Cave in over 60 years to bring the total Dead Sea Scroll caves to twelve. And stay tune there could be more caves to come in the future.

Dr. Randall Price, Scott Stripling (visiting) and myself.
The Qumran plateau is visible behind us.

Photos for download: (Credit for all photos below to Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld):
-Archaeologists Oren Gutfeld & Ahiad Ovadia survey cave http://media.huji.ac.il/new/photos/hu170208_orenahiad.JPG
-Archaeologist Ahiad Ovadia digs carefully in cave http://media.huji.ac.il/new/photos/hu170208_ahiaddigs.jpg
-Ziad Abu Ganem and student filter material from cave http://media.huji.ac.il/new/photos/hu170208_ziad.jpg
-Fault cliff and cave entrance on the left http://media.huji.ac.il/new/photos/hu170208_caveentrance.JPG
-Fragments of jars that contained stolen scrolls http://media.huji.ac.il/new/photos/hu170208_jarfragments.JPG
-Remnant of scroll when removed from jar http://media.huji.ac.il/new/photos/hu170208_remnantremoved.jpg
-Neolithic flint tools found in cave http://media.huji.ac.il/new/photos/hu170208_tools.jpg
-Cloth that was used for wrapping the scrolls http://media.huji.ac.il/new/photos/hu170208_fabric.jpg
-Seal made of carnelian stone found in cave http://media.huji.ac.il/new/photos/hu170208_seal.jpg
-Filtering materials from the cave http://media.huji.ac.il/new/photos/hu170208_sorting.jpg

The one fact that none of the news reports mention is that a lone Canadian was involved. :-)

 News Articles based on the original press release by Hebrew University.

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