The discovery of a twelfth cave associated with the famous Dead Sea Scrolls may arm scholars with new clues to deter looters and detect modern forgeries of the ancient documents.That's the back story. The key point for this article is this:
Earlier this week archaeologists announced the discovery of the cave—the first scroll site found since 1956—and revealed the results of recent excavations. The Israeli team found numerous storage jars that had been hidden in niches cut into the cave walls, but all were broken and their contents removed.
Some items were left behind, however, including leather scroll ties, textiles for wrapping scrolls, and a pair of rusty pickaxes from the 1950s—telltale signs that the cave had once harbored a collection of scrolls stored in clay jars, but looters had made off with the documents decades ago.
“The findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen,” said Hebrew University archaeologist and excavation director Oren Gutfeld.
The team also found pieces of parchment with no writing on it. Such material has become a hot commodity, with scraps of ancient parchment commanding high prices, according to Randall Price, an archaeologist at Liberty University who collaborated on the project. Much of the material is supplied by looters, who in recent years have been aggressively targeting the Dead Sea caves.That hadn't occurred to me, but, yes, it makes sense. Blank parchments like this scientifically excavated one may already have been looted. They may have been used to give us some of the recent, apparent Dead Sea Scrolls forgeries.
The blank parchment that archaeologists recently found may shed light on how high quality forgeries could be making their way to the market. And because it was recovered by scientifically rigorous methods, the parchment will help experts assess fragments that show up for sale.
One correction to my first post on this discovery. There I took the Hebrew University press release to be saying that the blank parchment was being tested for faded writing. I think I misread it. What it actually was saying was that the blank fragment itself was (in antiquity) "being processed" to be written on. The English statement isn't very clear. Perhaps the Hebrew press release, which I have not seen, was clearer.