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Israeli archaeologists discover new Dead Sea Scrolls for first time in 60 years

Israel Antiquities Authority conservator Tanya Bitler shows newly discovered Dead Sea Scroll fragments at the Dead Sea Scrolls conservation lab in Jerusalem on March 16. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

TEL AVIV — Israeli archaeologists on Tuesday revealed dozens of recently discovered fragments of biblical texts, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, which build on a collection of ancient Jewish religious manuscripts that was first discovered 60 years ago.

Israel’s Antiquities Authorities said the pieces of parchment feature lines of Greek text from the books of Zechariah and Nahum that have been radiocarbon dated to the A.D. 2nd century.

Israeli archaeologists revealed on March 16 dozens of recently discovered fragments of biblical texts, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Video: Reuters)

The discovery is the result of a years-long Israeli excavation in the Judean Desert and is believed to belong to a set known as the Cave of Horror, named for the 40 human skeletons found during excavations in the 1960s. They bear a Greek rendition of the Twelve Minor Prophets.

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The finding also included a cache of millennia-old rare coins, a 6,000-year-old skeleton of a child — likely female, mummified in a piece of cloth — and a large basket dating back 10,500 years, which specialists believe could be the oldest in the world.

“These finds are not just important to our own cultural heritage, but to that of the entire world,” said Avi Cohen, CEO of the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, which was involved in the excavation.

“The scroll fragments containing biblical texts, the coins and the additional finds from the Second Temple Period that were found in this unique project directly attest to the Jewish heritage of the region and the inseparable bond between the Jewish cultural activities and our place in this land,” he added.

The artifacts are believed to have been stashed in the cave during the Bar Kochba Revolt, an armed Jewish uprising against Rome during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, between A.D. 132 and 136.

The national archaeological project, billed as a defense against the threat of antiquities looting, has been underway in the caves and ravines of the Judean Desert since 2017. It was supported by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Archaeology Department of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria and received funding from the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage.

Before the coronavirus crisis, dozens of young Israelis participated in the excavations.

“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 Israel Antiquities Authority Director Israel Hasson.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Jewish texts, were first happened upon by Bedouin shepherds in the desert caves in the West Bank, near the Dead Sea and the ancient city of Qumran, in 1946. The Bedouins hung the scrolls on a pole before their existence was discovered by a Jewish professor at Hebrew University.

In the 1940s and 1950s, continued excavations in and beyond the Qumran area yielded additional manuscripts and fragments that ultimately became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Those fragments, mostly on parchment as well as on pieces of papyrus, are believed to date between the 3rd century B.C. to the A.D. 1st century and include the earliest known copies of the Hebrew Bible and provide documentation of an ascetic Jewish sect that existed during the time of Jesus.

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