A project surveying caves in the Judean Desert, Israel, has led to several important discoveries, including the first new fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls to be identified in 60 years.
The scrolls were found in Cave 8 in the wadi of Nahal Hever, a site also known as the ‘Cave of Horror’, both for its location c.80m down a sheer rockface, and for the remains of 40 individuals found there in the early 1960s, believed to be Jewish refugees fleeing from Roman forces during the Bar-Kokhba Revolt of AD 132-135. It is thought that the scrolls were stashed in the cave at the same time. The newly discovered fragments consist of over 20 pieces of parchment belonging to the Minor Prophets Scroll, including sections of the books of Zechariah and Nahum. Like the other parts of this Scroll, which were discovered during previous excavations in the 1950s and 1960s, the text was written in Greek by two different scribes.
Also found in the cave were other objects left behind during the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, including coins, arrowheads, spearheads, combs, sandals, and woven fabric, as well as an earlier find: the remains of a child who died c.6,000 years ago and was buried in a shallow pit near the cave wall. The child is believed to be female and aged between six and 12 years old. She was placed in a foetal position and wrapped in cloth, and had been naturally mummified by the conditions in the cave.
The project also made another significant discovery in a different cave, c.16km north of the Cave of Horror. Cave 4 at Wadi Muraba’at contained a stunningly well-preserved basket created 10,500 years ago and preserved by the heat and aridity of the cave. The basket appears to have been woven out of plant material by two people, one of whom was left-handed. It has a capacity of 90-100 litres and was probably used for storage. This is not the earliest basket ever found, but it is the oldest known example to have survived intact.