Newly-excavated skeletons could help to reveal who wrote the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls

Lydia Smith
A fragment of the 2000-year-old Dead Sea scrolls is laid out at a laboratory on December 18, 2012 in Jerusalem, Israel: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Newly-excavated skeletons at a 2,000-year-old site in the West Bank could give clues as to who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Anthropologist Yossi Nagar, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said analysis of 33 newly-excavated skeletons buried at Qumran were in line with a theory that the community consisted of a religious sect of men.

In the past it has been theorised that a community of celibate men lived there at the time the scrolls were placed in the caves near an ancient settlement.

In the past it has been suggested they may have written or guarded the scrolls, a collection of nearly 1,000 manuscripts which are the oldest-surviving copies of biblical text.

Around 30 of the skeletons, excavated in 2016, were definitely or most likely males, aged between 20 and 50 - or possibly older - when they died.

The skeletons are thought to be approximately 2,200 years old, according to radiocarbon dating, which is around the same age as the scrolls.

“I don’t know if these were the people who produced the Qumran region’s Dead Sea Scrolls,” Mr Nagar said at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research, according to Science News which originally reported the story.

“But the high concentration of adult males of various ages buried at Qumran is similar to what has been found at cemeteries connected to Byzantine monasteries.”

Mr Nagar said six of seven previously unearthed bodies initially thought to be women were actually men.

The first of the parchment, papyrus and copper texts - believed to have been written between 150 BC and AD 70 - were discovered in the 1940s by Bedouin goat herders.

The scrolls are written in a variety of languages, mostly Hebrew, but also Aramaic, the ancient language believed to be spoken by Jesus Christ.

The origin of the scrolls remains subject to scholarly debate to this day, but one theory suggests members of an ancient Jewish sect called the Essenes lived at Qumran, who either wrote or protected the manuscripts.

Other research suggests multiple Jewish groups wrote the manuscripts.