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]

People Have Been Dining on Caviar Since the Stone Age

iStock.com/Lisovskaya
iStock.com/Lisovskaya

Millennia before caviar became a staple hors d'oeuvre at posh parties, it was eaten from clay pots by Stone Age humans. That's the takeaway of a new study published in the journal PLOS One. As Smithsonian reports, traces of cooked fish roe recovered from an archeological site in Germany show just how far back the history of the dish goes.

For the study, researchers from Germany conducted a protein analysis of charred food remains caked to the shards of an Stone Age clay cooking vessel. After isolating roughly 300 proteins and comparing them to that of boiled fresh fish roe and tissue, they were able to the identify the food scraps as carp roe, or eggs. The scientists write that the 4000 BCE-era hunter-gatherers likely cooked the fish roe in a pot of water or fish broth heated by embers, and covered the pot with leaves to contain the heat or add additional flavor.

The clay shards were recovered from Friesack 4 in Brandenburg, Germany, a Stone Age archaeological site that has revealed about 150,000 artifacts, including items crafted from antlers, wood, and bone, since it was discovered in the 1930s. In the same study, the researchers report that they also found remnants of bone-in pork on a vessel recovered from the same site.

Other archaeological digs have shown that some of the foods we think of as modern delicacies have been around for thousands of years, including cheese, salad dressing, and bone broth. The same goes for beverages: Recently a 13,000-year-old brewery was uncovered in the Middle East.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Dozens of Cat Mummies, Plus 100 Cat Statues, Discovered in 4500-Year-Old Egyptian Tomb

iStock.com/Murat İnan
iStock.com/Murat İnan

The mummification of cats was a common practice in ancient Egypt, but it’s always a pleasant surprise when the felines are found thousands of years later. As NPR reports, dozens of mummified cats and 100 wooden cat statues were recently discovered in a 4500-year-old tomb near Cairo.

These items were uncovered by Egyptian archaeologists while excavating a newly discovered tomb in Saqqara, whose necropolis served the ancient city of Memphis. Another nearby tomb remains sealed, and it’s possible that it may have evaded looters and remained untouched for millennia.

In addition to the wooden statues, one bronze cat statue was found. It was dedicated to Bastet, goddess of cats, who was said to be the daughter of Re, god of the Sun. While cats were revered by ancient Egyptians, they weren’t directly worshipped. Rather, gods like Bastet were often depicted with the physical characteristics of an animal that was considered divine.

Even rarer than the mummified cats were a couple collections of mummified scarab beetles that were found in the tomb—the first of their kind to be unearthed in this particular necropolis, Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities announced in a Facebook post. The scarabs were still in “very good condition” because they had been wrapped in linen and placed inside two limestone sarcophagi, whose lids had black scarabs painted on top.

"The (mummified) scarab is something really unique. It is something really a bit rare," Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, told Reuters and other media. "A couple of days ago, when we discovered those coffins, they were sealed coffins with drawings of scarabs. I never heard about them before."

The beetles were an important religious symbol in ancient Egypt, representing renewal and rebirth. The Ministry of Antiquities said archaeologists also found wooden statues of a lion, a cow, and a falcon, as well as painted wooden sarcophagi of cobras (with mummies inside) and wooden sarcophagi of crocodiles.

[h/t NPR]

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