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Liberty News

Archaeologist’s work in Israeli caves draws attention of National Geographic

December 26, 2018 : By Tobi Walsh Laukaitis/Liberty University News Service

Almost two years after taking part in a major Dead Sea Scrolls discovery, Liberty University distinguished professor and archaeologist Dr. Randall Price is continuing to make strides with new archeological finds that provide a deeper understanding of biblical history.

Price, along with a team of Liberty students and faculty members, participated in an archaeological dig this past January in a cave in Qumran, Israel. National Geographic spent several days at the excavation site for its cover story, “The Bible Hunters,” which features the process of finding and preserving biblical texts and artifacts. The article also described the work Price helped conduct in 2017, when teams made the first major discovery related to the Dead Sea Scrolls in more than 60 years. They uncovered jar fragments, scroll wrappings, string, and a piece of worked leather that proved the Dead Sea Scrolls were once stored there. The find made Christianity Today’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2017 for Biblical Archaeology.

Experts made the first Dead Sea Scrolls discoveries in Qumran in the 1940s and 1950s. Though looters have taken many of the antiquities from the sites over the years, Price and other archaeologists suspect more are hidden deeper in caves that have not been fully excavated. Next month, Price will lead a team of two Liberty faculty members, a graduate student, and two alumni to continue excavations in two more caves south of Qumran.

On the January 2018 trip, directed by Price and Dr. Oren Gutfeld of Hebrew University, and alongside Yacov Kalman (also of Hebrew University), American volunteers, and Israeli and Arab workers, the team found Qumran-type vessels along with pieces of white woven fabric similar to those worn by members of the Qumran community. At the cave entrance, an almost intact Late Hellenistic oil lamp was found. About a dozen iron arrowheads and spear points were also uncovered within the cave, as well as braided rope, string, and various types of ancient woven textiles.

A hidden chamber was discovered, marked by large flat stones placed upright to form an entrance. At the chamber’s opening, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a storage jar, a juglet, and a rare bronze cooking pot with an iron handle. The pot was similar to one found in the 1950s, providing more proof that the site had a connection to the scrolls. An ancient vessel covered in a blue-green patina that included an engraved decoration was also located. Another small cave contained the broken rim of a jar that was later revealed to be a jar that scrolls would have been stored in.

The archaeological team from Liberty returned to Qumran in March 2018 and conducted a geophysical survey of the site.

“The discoveries made at the new site confirm that there is much still hidden in the caves of the Judean Desert, and that previously pillaged caves have significant potential for further excavation,” Price said. “In addition, the discovery of the hidden chamber underscores the need for doing a complete excavation of the caves in order to reveal the full history of the sites.”

He said the recent discoveries — and any future findings — will strengthen the theory that connects the Qumran community to scroll production and the hiding of the documents in nearby caves, a theory that has come under attack in recent years.

“This is a challenging project, but one which we believe may have a great potential for furthering our knowledge of the use of the caves of Qumran, the hiding of the scrolls, and, hopefully, scroll fragments that will extend our understanding of the history of the Jewish people before and during the first-century A.D. (including the time of Jesus and the formation of the early church) and of the biblical text itself.”

Price has had an extensive career as an archaeologist, serving as the director of excavations on the Qumran Plateau (the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls community) in Israel since 2002. He teaches courses on biblical and Judaic studies as a distinguished research professor in the Liberty University Rawlings School of Divinity. Price is also the curator of the Liberty Biblical Museum, where about 3,000 artifacts can be seen, as well as a replica of several Dead Sea Scrolls.

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