Archaeologists race to save Bible relics ‘beyond value’ from ‘Cave of Horror’

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New pieces of the fabled Dead Sea Scrolls have been found in a so-called “Cave of Horror” in the Judaean Desert.

The new scroll fragments include previously unseen Greek translations of the Books of Zechariah and Nahum that have been dated to the 2nd century CE and Bible scholars hope there could be more of the ancient documents remaining within the cave’s depths.

But Israeli archaeologists fear the relics, the first scroll fragments to be found in six decades, could be looted by treasure hunters before they can be recovered.

Israel Hasson, director of the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA), said the discoveries were “a wakeup call” making it more urgent for the area to be fully explored and investigated.

“We must ensure that we recover all the data that has not yet been discovered in the caves before the robbers do. Some things are beyond value,” Hasson said.

A press release from the IAA explains that the site is “flanked by gorges and can only be reached by rappelling precariously down the sheer cliff.”

An IAA archaeologist told Haaretz that the new discovery was made by chance after she answered a call of nature: “I crouched to pee and suddenly I saw something that didn’t look like sand, and I realised it was a sole of a shoe,” she said, adding that her male colleagues would have probably missed it.

A thorough search of the area found the skeleton of a child that has been dated to some 6,000 years ago alongside the ancient Hebrew texts, as well as a basket which, at over 10,000 years old, is thought to be the most ancient ever found.

“As far as we know, this is the oldest basket in the world that has been found completely intact and its importance is, therefore, immense,” the IAA press release said.

The “Cave of Horror”, beneath the southern cliff of a wadi named Nahal Hever, is called so because the skeletons of 40 men, women and children have been discovered in its depths.

The ancient remains were thought to belong to Jewish refugees hiding from the Bar Kokhba revolt, an uprising of the Jews against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.

The four-year rebellion, which ended in 136 CE, caused immense loss of life among the Judean rebels and Roman military alike.

The Dead Sea Scrolls shed new light on life in what is now Israel during Jesus’s lifetime, and include the second-oldest known text of the Old Testament as well as numerous other religious writings of the period.

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