Fragment of Dead Sea scrolls found in desert

Professor Chanan Eshel, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv's Bar Ilan University, said yesterday that the discovery of two fragments of nearly 2,000-year-old parchment scroll from the Dead Sea area gave hope to biblical and archaeological scholars, frustrated by a dearth of material unearthed in the region during recent years.

"No more scrolls have been found in the Judean Desert since 1965. That encourages scholars to believe that if they bother to excavate, survey and climb they will still find things in the Judean desert.

"The common knowledge has been that there is nothing left to find there, " Professor Eshel said.

The two small pieces of brown animal skin, inscribed in Hebrew with verses from the Book of Leviticus, are said by Professor Eshel to be from " refugee" caves in Nachal Arugot, a canyon near the Dead Sea, where Jews hid from the Romans in the second century.

The scrolls are being tested by Israel's Antiquities Authority. The archaeologist and bible scholar Steven Pfann said: "If the fragments are properly authenticated, what's interesting and exciting is thatthis is the first time we've seen anything from the south since the 1960s."

Professor Eshel first saw the fragments last year after the Bedouin, who had been offered $20,000 (£10,000) for the fragments on the black market, asked for a valuation.

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