Last week archaeologists discovered a cave near the Dead Sea that almost certainly once contained ancient scrolls like those found at eleven other caves nearby. They believe looters took the documents in the 1950s, leaving broken jars and blank parchment behind. Yet despite the absence of texts, experts still expect the new discovery to prove helpful, as Michelle Z. Donahue writes:
Over the past fifteen years there has been an increase in the number of Dead Sea Scroll fragments offered for sale on the private art market, said Lawrence Schiffman, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University and an authority on the scrolls. “Many of the fragments that entered the market since 2002 appear to be forged.”
Some forgeries have expert lettering on parchment as old as the actual scrolls themselves, Schiffman said. “It’s possible some of this is coming from caves where people were able to locate ancient blank material to write on.”
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.
“When things turn up, you just don’t know where they came from—you’re relying on the testimony of the seller,” [the archaeologist Randall] Price said. “We need these controlled excavations so that when something’s found, there’s no doubt of its origins and authenticity.”