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It hasn’t happened since 1956, but Israeli archaeologists are announcing the discovery of a new cave – the 12th so far – used by Jews of the Second Temple era to hide scrolls containing copies of the Hebrew Bible and other texts.

“This is one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries, and the most important in the last 60 years, in the caves of Qumran,” said Oren Gutfield of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology, co-discoverer with his colleague Ahiad Ovadia.

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The discovery and excavation were part of “Operation Scroll,” a new program of the Israel Antiquities Authority to systematically survey the Judean Desert to identify all its caves and to explore them.

The new discovery, designated Q12, revealed that at one time, the cave had contained scrolls but all had been looted, as determined by a pair of iron pickax heads from the 1950s found at the site. But storage jars and lids like those found in other Qumran caves were present, though broken and emptied.

Evidence of looting raises questions about the provenance of scroll fragments attributed to the previously known caves. In October 2016, the IAA unveiled a 4.3 inch by 1 inch papyrus fragment carbon seized from looters and dated to the 7th century B.C. that contained the oldest-known mention of Jerusalem in Hebrew.

“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 Gutfeld.

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