This press release was first published on the DQCAAS website.
An ancient residue in a clay jar lid, originating from the area where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, was found to contain decomposed papyrus. Numerous cylindrical jars and lids were found in caves close to the ancient site of Qumran, west of the Dead Sea, but these were largely broken and empty, and their association with scrolls has been doubted. The discovery of decomposed papyrus in one of the lids adds to the evidence that scrolls were once placed in them, even though no scroll fragments have survived.
Dr Dennis Mizzi, Head Department of Oriental Studies, announced the findings on 24 November 2019, on behalf of an international team of researchers, at the American Schools of Oriental Research and Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meetings in San Diego.
The jar was bought in 1963 by Scrolls scholar John Allegro and he thought that the hardened residue was 'bat dung'. The jar lid is now in a private collection.
A sample was sent for testing at Quest laboratories, at the University of Reading, UK, and the tests have concluded that the unknown material derives from a member of the sedge (Cyperaceae) family, such as the papyrus sedge, which is not local to the Dead Sea area, and therefore ‘probably comes from one or more degraded papyrus scrolls’. The new results probably indicate that a jar in a Qumran cave fell over and its papyrus contents spilled into the detached lid, then decomposed over the centuries.
In their paper the researchers note that while the precise location where the jar was found cannot be determined exactly, its form is the same as other Qumran jars and lids, which are of a class not found anywhere else.
The researchers' work further supports the hypothesis believed by many scholars that many other Qumran caves contained scrolls.
The substance was analysed as an initiative of the Leverhulme-funded ‘Network for the Study of Dispersed Qumran Cave Artefacts and Archival Sources’ (DQCAAS), a collaboration between Prof. Joan Taylor (King’s College London), Dr Dennis Mizzi (University of Malta), and Prof. Marcello Fidanzio (Università della Svizzera italiana). The scientific analysis was led by Dr Kamal Badreshany (University of Durham).