Friday, December 10, 2010

What’s inside? Sealed jar discovered at Qumran – site of Dead Sea Scrolls

View Qumran - discovery of sealed pot in a larger map

Randall Price holding the sealed jar from Qumran. An article
set to appear in the journal Archaeometry reveals that it
contains gypsum, a soft mineral used to make plaster.

A shot of the jar as it was found on the excavation site.


The jar against a black background.

Qumran was occupied between 100 BC - AD 70.
The sealed pot was found 50 meters south of it.
Photo by James Emery, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic
UPDATED DECEMBER 27
-The excavation team has released pictures of the sealed jar.

An intact, sealed, jar has been discovered at Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in nearby caves.

A multinational team of scientists have been analyzing the jar and their findings are set to be published in the journal Archaeometry. If you have a subscription (or access to a library with one) you can already see the article on the publication’s website.

“The finding of an intact and sealed storage jar is an extremely rare event,” the researchers write. The discovery “provides a unique possibility to analyse its last contents.”

Altogether nine scientists are credited in the paper. Kaare Lund Rasmussen, of the University of Southern Denmark, is listed at the lead author.

The jar itself was excavated in 2004. It was found about 50 meters south of Qumran in an uninhabited area that may have been used for agriculture. Animal bones and pottery shards were unearthed nearby. The group that found it was led by Randall Price of Liberty University and Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Pictures of the jar are published in the journal article. The rights to them appear to be held by the excavation group and a request to have them republished on this website was not granted as of press time. (UPDATED DEC 27 - PICTURES HAVE NOW BEEN RELEASED - SEE ABOVE)

“The intact jar, named Jar-35, was sealed with an overturned bowl fastened as a lid,” Rasmussen’s team writes. “When the lid was lifted and a camera lowered into the interior, a deposit up to 3 cm thick was discovered lining the bottom and the sides.”

A jar of gypsum

The scientists used a wide variety of analytical techniques to determine what is inside the jar. One of the techniques uses x-rays to search for crystalline material – the test succeeded in identifying a substance. “Based on this analysis, it is evident that the only significant crystalline phase in the deposit is gypsum,” the scientists write.

Also found in the jar was a small amount of charcoal. They were able to radiocarbon date it, determining that the coal was used sometime between 100 BC and AD 15, a period when Qumran would have been inhabited.

After determining that there were no other materials in the jar the scientists focussed their work around a new question – why would the inhabitants of Qumran seal gypsum inside a pottery vessel?

“The most straightforward hypothesis is that Jar-35 was a storage and transport jar for gypsum,” writes the research team. “Perhaps the gypsum was intended for lining the cisterns of Qumran.”
It seems possible. Gypsum is a soft mineral that can be used to make plaster – something which there is plenty of at Qumran.

Archaeologists Yuval Peleg and Yitzhak Magen have conducted extensive excavation work at the site. At one point they say that the residents turned Qumran’s stables into pools. “Two of the entrances,” Peleg and Magen write in a report, “were sealed and plastered and the space was divided by low, plastered walls into six shallow pools.”

They also note the presence of plastered floors, plastered water channels and even a partly plastered aqueduct. “Upstream in Nahal Qumran, an aqueduct – partly constructed and plastered and partly rock-cut – drew water from the stream.”

Alternative explanations

The scientists raise a few other possibilities – one is that Qumran’s residents waterproofed this particular jar by lining it with gypsum. It then could have been used to store water or another type of liquid. “Against this hypothesis is the fact that there have been no previous reports of gypsum lining of such jars,” the team writes.

Another idea is that the gypsum might have had some sort of industrial use. “Precisely which ancient industry might have been reflected by the use of gypsum is not clear,” they say. The team found no organic compounds that suggest the mineral was used for perfume or glue making.

Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

More than 900 Dead Sea Scrolls have been found at Qumran. They include early copies of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), historical documents and community rules.

There is an active debate as to how they got to caves near Qumran. Whether this jar discovery has any impact on the discussion remains to be seen.

A bit of background on this debate:

Originally it was believed that a group called the Essenes lived at the site and wrote the scrolls. However recent archaeological work by Peleg and Magen suggests that the site was used as a military outpost by the Hamoneans starting around 100 BC. They were a dynasty of Jewish kings that ruled much of Palestine.

“Qumran was not a fortress capable of withstanding the assault of an attacking army, but rather a forward observation and supervision post that controlled land and sea traffic along the Dead Sea Coast,” the two archaeologists write.

According to their research the Hasmonean soldiers left Qumran around 63 BC, after the Romans arrived in the region. Civilians then took over the site and used it for pottery production. This civilian settlement lasted until about AD 70 when Jewish residents throughout Palestine revolted against the Romans. Jerusalem came under siege, with refugees fleeing the city.

Some of them headed south, until they came to Qumran and its harsh terrain. “Qumran is the last station,” Yuval Peleg said in an interview, done a year back. “The water came to the cliffs after Qumran.” They couldn’t bring the scrolls with them, so the people put them in caves before resuming their flight. They never returned.

Another idea, as to how the scrolls got to Qumran, comes from Robert Cargill, a researcher at UCLA who has created a virtual model of the site. He agrees that the site was first used as a military outpost and was later converted for civilian use.

He suggests, however, that these civilians wrote some of the scrolls found in Qumran’s caves. He points out that multiple inkwells have been found at the site. “Somebody was writing something at Qumran,” he said in an interview that took place a year back. Cargill also points out that some of the caves are located very close to the site. They “cannot be gotten through without going through the residence of Qumran.”

In addition to writing scrolls, Cargill suggests that Qumran’s civilians would have brought in examples from elsewhere in Palestine, building up a collection. When the Romans approached the site, just before AD 70, these people put them into caves and then fled.

12 comments:

  1. If some of the scrolls were written at Qumran, how come not a single one mentions Qumran or the people living or working there ? Why are there no original documents? There are only 2 inkwells attributed to Qumran.How come none of these brilliant scholars discuss the cemetary just outside of the compound, which would be against the LAW for a religous center.

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  2. Ken says Robert Cargill does not appear to know anything about the history of Qumran.Nearly all compounds had somebody that could write ,using inkwells. There is no known evidence that the scrolls were written at Qumran.Not a single scroll mentions Qumran or another name for the compound.The scrolls came from Jerusalems' libraries.

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  3. Two points:
    1 The name of Qumran was irrelevant - the contents of the scrolls were the focus and they did not come from Jerusalem's libraries. They were written at Qumran by the scholars there.
    2 The Essene Community was not a wholly male community, there were community members from elsewhere that used to visit as well. These included men and women who also belonged to the Essene Community.It was not against the Law of that community.

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  4. the monotheist belief in yahweh is self induced brainwashing anyways when reviewing the finding of the earlier cult of yahweh and sherah, man and wife gods-displaced to sexism and greed/power over others(political control)
    BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! STOP KILLING THE BABIES!

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  5. Anonymous said...

    Why are there no original documents?

    Annie Hoddinott if you think they were writing the documents at Qumran, then what is your explanation for this?

    I think this is a valuable point, if they were copying old testament documents, what did they do, destroy the originals after copying them? This does not seem likely to me.

    It also seems likely that the military or anyone that could write would have ink wells.
    To send reports or letters to loved ones.

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    Replies
    1. ONE THEORY CONCERNING QUMRAN, IS THAT THE ESENES HID THE DOCUMENTS IN THE CAVES TO HIDE THEM FROM THE ROMANS WHO WERE SCOURING THE TERRITORY, WIPING OUT ANY SIGN OF CHRISTIANITY AND CHRISTIANS. THEY THEMSELVES THEN FLED. IT IS QUITE POSSIBLE THAT THEY WOULD HIDE THE ORIGINALS SOMEWHERE ELSE THUS INSURING THAT AT LEAST ONE COPY WOULD SURVIVE FOR POSTERITY. THESE FACTS HAVE STILL TO BE DISCOVERED.
      I THINK THAT THE FACT THAT WE ARE FINDING THESE SITES WITH THE INFORMATION THEY CONTAIN IS A FULFILLMENT OF THE PROPHECY IN THE BIBLE THAT "IN THE END TIMES, KNOWLEDGE WILL INCREASE". GOD IS GIVING US EVERY CHANCE TO BELIEVE IN HIM BY CONSTANTLY REVEALING NEW EVIDENCE.

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  6. If there is a discussion about the subject...
    Would be profitable to the Anonymous person to identify yourself and speak clearly and with tranparence...
    kind regards from Rio

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  7. Why haven't any original documents been found? Because the have not been uncovered yet. Just because you have not seen the documents does not mean they aren't there, somewhere. When the entire area has been excavated and researched then we can discuss the presence or lack of historical documents.

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  8. the hashmanean were a dynasty of jewish kings ruling "palestine"? archeology has became a joke today

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  9. If somebody drew two eyes and a mouth on the lid I think this jar would look rather cute!

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  10. Pepe, as you may know already, the Greeks and Romans generally and officially called the country Judea [Ioudaia, IVDAEA]. The name "Syria Palaestina" was not applied officially to the country, replacing the name Judea, until the time of Emperor Hadrian who meant to use "Syria Palaestina" to punish the Jews for the Bar Kokhba Revolt [131-135 CE]. I found this article helpful:
    http://www.esek.com/jerusalem/iudaea.html

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