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

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Author Topic: What’s inside? Sealed jar discovered at Qumran – site of Dead Sea Scr  (Read 86 times)
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« on: December 11, 2010, 08:12:15 pm »

Friday, December 10, 2010
What’s inside? Sealed jar discovered at Qumran – site of Dead Sea Scrolls

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

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.

“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.”
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« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2010, 08:13:20 pm »

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.”

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« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2010, 08:14:41 pm »

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.
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« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2010, 08:15:52 pm »

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.
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