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Hebrew University Archaeologists Find 12th Dead Sea Scrolls Cave

08/02/2017

Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Oren Gutfeld: "This is one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries, and the most important in the last 60 years, in the caves of Qumran."

Excavations in a cave on the cliffs west of Qumran, near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, prove that Dead Sea scrolls from the Second Temple period were hidden in the cave, and were looted by Bedouins in the middle of the last century. With the discovery of this cave, scholars now suggest that it should be numbered as Cave 12. [Photo links below]

The surprising discovery, representing a milestone in Dead Sea Scroll research, was made by Dr. Oren Gutfeld and Ahiad Ovadia from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology, with the collaboration of Dr. Randall Price and students from Liberty University in Virginia, USA.

The excavators are the first in over 60 years to discover a new scroll cave and to properly excavate it.

The excavation was supported by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, 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.

Excavation of the cave revealed that at one time it contained Dead Sea scrolls. Numerous storage jars and lids from the Second Temple period were found hidden in niches along the walls of the cave and deep inside a long tunnel at its rear. 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.

Until now, it was believed that only 11 caves had contained scrolls. With the discovery of this cave, scholars have now suggested that it would be numbered as Cave 12. 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).

"This exciting excavation is the closest we’ve come to discovering new Dead Sea scrolls in 60 years. Until now, it was accepted that Dead Sea scrolls were found only in 11 caves at Qumran, but now there is no doubt that this is the 12th cave," said Dr. Oren Gutfeld, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology and director of the excavation. "Finding this additional scroll cave means we can no longer be certain that the original locations (Caves 1 through 11) attributed to the Dead Sea scrolls that reached the market via the Bedouins are accurate."

Dr. Gutfeld added: “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 finds from the excavation include not only the storage jars, which held the scrolls, but also fragments of scroll wrappings, a string that tied the scrolls, and a piece of worked leather that was a part of a scroll. 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.

This first excavation to take place in the northern part of the Judean Desert as part of “Operation Scroll” will open the door to further understanding the function of the caves with respect to the scrolls, with the potential of finding new scroll material. The material, when published, will provide important new evidence for scholars of the archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea caves.

"The important discovery of another scroll cave attests to the fact that a lot of work remains to be done in the Judean Desert and finds of huge importance are still waiting to be discovered,” said Israel Hasson, Director-General of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “We are in a race against time as antiquities thieves steal heritage assets worldwide for financial gain. The State of Israel needs to mobilize and allocate the necessary resources in order to launch a historic operation, together with the public, to carry out a systematic excavation of all the caves of the Judean Desert.”

Photos for download: (Credit for all photos to Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld):

- Dov Smith

Hebrew University Archaeologists Find 12th Dead Sea Scrolls Cave
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12,000-Year-Old Funeral Feast Brings Ancient Burial Rituals to Life

06/07/2016

One of the earliest funeral banquets ever to be discovered reveals a preplanned, carefully constructed event that reflects social changes at the beginning of the transition to agriculture in the Natufian period

The woman was laid on a bed of specially selected materials, including gazelle horn cores, fragments of chalk, fresh clay, limestone blocks and sediment. Tortoise shells were placed under and around her body, 86 in total. Sea shells, an eagle's wing, a leopard's pelvis, a forearm of a wild boar and even a human foot were placed on the body of the mysterious 1.5 meter-tall woman. Atop her body, a large stone was laid to seal the burial space.

It was not an ordinary funeral, said the Hebrew University archaeologist who discovered the grave in a cave site on the bank of the Hilazon river in the western Galilee region of northern Israel back in 2008 (LINK). Three other grave pits have been found at the site of Hilazon Tachtit since 1995, and most contained bones of several humans. Nevertheless, the unusual objects found inside the grave, measuring approximately 0.70 m x 1.00 m x 0.45 m, point to the uniqueness of the event and the woman at its center.

Eight years after the discovery, Prof. Leore Grosman from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Prof. Natalie Munro from the University of Connecticut, have identified the sequence of events of the mysterious funeral ritual that took place 12,000 years ago.

"We've assigned the event to stages based on field notes, digitized maps, stones, architecture and artifact frequency distributions and concentrations," said Prof. Grosman, adding that, "The high quality of preservation and recovery of a well-preserved grave of an unusual woman, probably a shaman, enabled the identification of six stages of a funerary ritual."

The research, published in the journal Current Anthropology (LINK), details the order of the six-step sequence and its ritual and ideological importance for the people who enacted it.

It began with the excavation of an oval grave pit in the cave floor. Next, a layer of objects was cached between large stones, including seashells, a broken basalt palette, red ochre, chalk, and several complete tortoise shells. These were covered by a layer of sediment containing ashes, and garbage composed of flint and animal bones. About halfway through the ritual, the woman was laid inside the pit in a child-bearing position, and special items including many more tortoise shells were placed on top of and around her. This was followed by another layer of filling and limestones of various sizes that were placed directly on the body. The ritual concluded with the sealing of the grave with a large, heavy stone.  

A wide range of activities took place in preparation for the funerary event. This included the collection of materials required for grave construction, and the capture and preparation of animals for the feast, particularly the 86 tortoises, which must have been time-consuming.

"The significant pre-planning implies that there was a defined 'to do' list, and a working plan of ritual actions and their order," said Prof. Grosman.

The study of funerary ritual in the archaeological record becomes possible only after humans began to routinely bury their dead in archaeologically visible locations. The Natufian period (15,000-11,500 years ago) in the southern Levant marks an increase in the frequency and concentration of human burials.

"The remnants of a ritual event at this site provide a rare opportunity to reconstruct the dynamics of ritual performance at a time when funerary ritual was becoming an increasingly important social mediator at a crucial juncture deep in human history," the researchers said.

This unusual Late Natufian funerary event in Hilazon Tachtit Cave in northern Israel provides strong evidence for community engagement in ritual practice, and its analysis contributes to the growing picture of social complexity in the Natufian period as a predecessor for increasingly public ritual and social transformations in the early Neolithic period that follows.

The unprecedented scale and extent of social change in the Natufian, especially in terms of ritual activities, make this period central to current debates regarding the origin and significance of social and ritual processes in the agricultural transition.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel’s leading academic and research institution, producing one-third of all civilian research in Israel. For more information, visit http://new.huji.ac.il/en.

Citation: Leore Grosman and Natalie D. Munro, "A Natufian Ritual Event," Current Anthropology57, no. 3 (June 2016); DOI: 10.1086/686563. Link to Current Anthropology: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/686563.

12,000-Year-Old Funeral Feast Brings Ancient Burial Rituals to Life
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