Scientists Crack the Cryptic Code of a 2000-Year-Old Dead Sea Scroll

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Decades after they were first discovered, the Dead Sea Scrolls continue to yield new information about centuries-old religious practices. As The Telegraph reports, Israeli researchers pieced together and translated more than 60 parchment fragments to reconstitute one of the last unread scrolls from the original cache, which was written between the 3rd century BCE and the 1st century CE.

Experts originally thought that the tattered parchment pieces—some smaller than one square centimeter—came from a number of different scrolls. But in 2017, scholars from Haifa University's Bible studies department began studying the snippets of text and realized they belonged to the same document.

According to the BBC, the newly deciphered scroll references a 364-day calendar that the writers followed. It also mentions no-longer-practiced festivals that marked the transition between seasons, and includes clarifying annotations made by a second writer or editor.

The text was written in code, researchers say, and the corrective notes helped them decipher the writings. The information in the text was well known when the scroll was composed, so the writer probably used the cryptic language to signal his elite status.

"This practice is also found in many places outside the Land of Israel, where leaders write in secret code even when discussing universally known matters, as a reflection of their status. The custom was intended to show that the author was familiar with the code, while others were not," researchers said in a statement.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves at the Qumran archaeological site in the West Bank, near the Dead Sea, between the late 1940s and the late 1950s. Fragments from more than 900 manuscripts were recovered, written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Among them were a selection of the Hebrew Bible's earliest-known writings and the oldest surviving version of the Ten Commandments.

Experts don't know for sure who wrote the scrolls, but one widely held theory is that a Jewish sect called the Essenes, which lived in the Judean desert near the Qumran caves, was responsible. We may learn more soon: A recent report in LiveScience recounts that archaeologists are currently excavating a newly discovered Qumran cave where a blank scroll was found in 2017. 

[h/t The Telegraph]

Mastodon Bones Have Been Discovered by Sewer Workers in Indiana

Thomas Quine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Thomas Quine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When something unexpected happens during a sewer system project, the news is not usually pleasant. But when workers installing pipes in Seymour, Indiana stopped due to an unforeseen occurrence, it was because they had inadvertently dug up a few pieces of history: mastodon bones.

According to the Louisville Courier Journal, workers fiddling with pipes running through a vacant, privately owned farm in Jackson County happened across the animal bones during their excavation of the property. The fossils—part of a jaw, a partial tusk, two leg bones, a vertebrae, a joint, some teeth, and a partial skull—were verified as belonging to a mastodon by Ron Richards, the senior research curator of paleobiology for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. The mastodon, which resembled a wooly mammoth and thrived during the Ice Age, probably stood over 9 feet tall and weighed more than 12,000 pounds.

The owners of the farm, the Nehrt and Schepman families, plan to donate the bones to the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis if the museum committee decides to accept them. Previously, mastodon bones were found in Jackson County in 1928 and 1949. The remains of “Fred the Mastodon” were discovered near Fort Wayne in 1998.

[h/t Louisville Courier Journal]

Middle School Student Discovers Megalodon Tooth Fossil on Spring Break

iStock.com/Mark Kostich
iStock.com/Mark Kostich

A few million years ago, the megalodon was the most formidable shark in the sea, with jaws spanning up to 11 feet wide and a stronger bite than a T. Rex. Today the only things left of the supersized sharks are fossils, and a middle school student recently discovered one on a trip to the beach, WECT reports.

Avery Fauth was spending spring break with her family at North Topsail Beach in North Carolina when she noticed something buried in the sand. She dug it up and uncovered a shark tooth the length of her palm. She immediately knew she had found something special, and screamed to get her family's attention.

Her father recognized the megalodon tooth: He had been searching for one for 25 years and had even taught his three daughters to scour the sand for shark teeth whenever they went to the beach. Avery and her sisters found a few more shark teeth that day from great whites, but her megalodon fossil was by far the most impressive treasure from the outing.

Megalodons dominated seas for 20 million years before suddenly dying out 3 million years ago. They grew between 43 and 82 feet long and had teeth that were up to 7.5 inches long—over twice the size of a great white's teeth. They're thought to be the largest sharks that ever lived.

Megalodon teeth have been discovered on every continent except Antarctica, but they're still a rare find. Avery Fauth plans to keep her fossil in a special box at home.

[h/t WECT]

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