SCIENCE

‘Cave Of Horror’ Discovery: Lost Dead Sea Scroll Fragments, Ancient Child Mummy

The child's skin, tendons and even some hair were partially preserved.

The mummified remains of a child who lived about 6,000 years ago and fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been discovered at a legendary site in Israel known as the “Cave of Horror.” 

Archaeologists also found a 10,000-year-old woven basket ― believed to be the oldest of its kind ― as well as a trove of ancient coins and clothing in the cave, which can only be reached by rappelling down a sheer cliff. 

The Israel Antiquities Authority called the discoveries in the Judaean Desert “astounding” when it announced the find this week. 

“This is a historic discovery, on an international level at this time,” Raz Frohlich, the director of the Ministry of Sports and Culture, said in a news release.

The agency said it found about 80 fragments of biblical texts ― the first new Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in more than half a century ― during a scientific excavation. Scholars were stunned by the 1,900-year-old fragments:

Recently-discovered biblical scroll fragments from the Bar Kochba period are displayed at the Israel Antiquities Authority's
Recently-discovered biblical scroll fragments from the Bar Kochba period are displayed at the Israel Antiquities Authority's Dead Sea conservation lab in Jerusalem.

“We found a textual difference that has no parallel with any other manuscript, either in Hebrew or in Greek,” Oren Ableman, a Dead Sea Scroll researcher with the Israel Antiquities Authority, told The Associated Press

“Another exciting aspect about this scroll is that despite most of the text being in Greek, the name of God appears in ancient Hebrew script, known from the times of the First Temple in Jerusalem,” the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement. 

One fragment included a passage from Zechariah 8:16–17: 

These are the things you are to do:

Speak the truth to one another,

render true and perfect justice in your gates.

And do not contrive evil against one another,

and do not love perjury,

because all those are things that I hate — declares the Lord. 

Another featured a passage from Nahum 1:5–6: 

The mountains quake because of Him,

And the hills melt.

The earth heaves before Him,

The world and all that dwell therein.

Who can stand before His wrath?

Who can resist His fury?

His anger pours out like fire,

and rocks are shattered because of Him.

Zechariah and Nahum were part of the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Scripture and the Old Testament in the Christian Bible.  

The cave was the last refuge of dozens of Jewish rebels who hid there during the Bar Kokhba Revolt against Roman Emperor Hadrian from 132-136 AD.  Dozens of skeletons were found during excavations in the 1960s, leading to the cave’s grim nickname. 

The latest discovery contained traces of their lives, including everyday items, and even coins minted during the revolt that feature Jewish symbols such as a harp and a date palm. 

Ancient coins from the Bar Kochba Revolt period dating back to 132-136 AD, that were unearthed from an area in the Judean Des
Ancient coins from the Bar Kochba Revolt period dating back to 132-136 AD, that were unearthed from an area in the Judean Desert.

“They planned what they will be taking from home ahead of time, what they will need to have with them when, one day, the war will be finished, what they will be able to use to build a new life,” archaeologist Oriah Amichai said in a video released by the agency. “We come here and reconstruct the life of those who didn’t survive in the end.” 

However, the caves were clearly in use for centuries before the rebellion. The child, believed to be a girl, was wrapped in cloth some 6,000 years ago and naturally mummified in the dry desert air. Bits of skin, tendons and even some of her hair was partially preserved. 

“It was covered with a cloth around its head and chest, like a small blanket, with its feet protruding from it,” Ronit Lupu of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a news release. “It was obvious that whoever buried the child had wrapped him up and pushed the edges of the cloth beneath him, just as a parent covers his child in a blanket. A small bundle of cloth was clutched in the child’s hands.” 

The child, visible in the video below, was estimated to be between 6 and 12 years old at the time of death:

The Israel Antiquities Authority said the difficult-to-reach cave has been the target of looters since the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found some 70 years ago. That remains the case today, leading to the current operation, which was launched in 2017.

“We must ensure that we recover all the data that has not yet been discovered in the caves, before the robbers do,” Israel Antiquities Authority’s director Israel Hasson said in a statement. “Some things are beyond value.”