JERUSALEM, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- Archaeologists excavating a cave in the Dead Sea announced Wednesday they had discovered the 12th cave that held scrolls from the Jewish Second Temple, a period dated to some 2,000 years ago.
The rare parchments were looted in the mid-20th century, presumably by local shepherds, the researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Liberty University in Virginia, United States, said in a statement.
The cave is located on cliffs west of Qumran, near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, where 11 other caves were found in a series of discoveries in between 1947 and 1956.
The so-called "Dead Sea Scrolls" were found in these caves near the shore of the salty lake, after which they were named. Dated to between the third century B.C. and 70 A.D., the scrolls are widely considered by scholars as the oldest written biblical fragment ever found.
Until now, researchers believed that only 11 caves had contained the ancient manuscripts. "With the discovery of this cave, scholars have now suggested that it would be numbered as Cave 12," according to a statement released by the Hebrew University on behalf of the team.
"Like Cave 8, in which scroll jars but no scrolls were found, this cave will receive the designation Q12 (Qumran)," the statement read.
The finds from the excavation include pieces of broken jars that held the scrolls and fragments of scroll wrappings, a string that tied the scrolls, and a piece of leather that was part of a scroll.
"This exciting excavation is the closest we've come to discover new Dead Sea scrolls in 60 years," said Dr. Oren Gutfeld, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology and director of the excavation.
"Although at the end of the day no scroll was found, and instead we 'only' found a piece of parchment rolled up in a jug that was being processed for writing, the findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen," he said.