A Bedouin shepherd came across the first of the ancient scrolls in 1947. He found them in jars in a cave in Qumran near the northern tip of the Dead Sea. Some were sold to a monastery, others to an antique dealer in Bethlehem. Once their authenticity was established, archaeological expeditions and robbers of antiquity followed, emptying the caves of whatever they could find.
But decades later, the Judean Desert had even more secrets to reveal.
Amid signs that robbers were still searching and haggling for artifacts from the area, parts of which are difficult to reach and rule, Israeli authorities decided to conduct a methodical, comprehensive investigation of the cliffs, ravines and caves from 2017.
“The archaeologists have always followed the robbers,” said Amir Ganor, who heads the antitheft division of the Antiquities Authority. “We decided that maybe it is time to be one step ahead of the robbers.”
Using modern tools such as drones that could search every nook and cranny, three teams of four mapped and searched some 50 miles of cliffs along the Dead Sea.
Access to some caves would have been easier in ancient times. People knew how to navigate the animal trails, said Mr Ganor, and instead of rappelling down, they would have used rope ladders for secluded caves. But for over 2,000 years, parts of the site collapsed and created deep abysses.
The West Bank was under Jordanian control from 1948 until Israel conquered the area in the 1967 Middle East War. It is now split between Israeli and partial Palestinian control. But the 1967 border didn’t exist in ancient times, Mr. Ganor said, and the archaeologists treated the Judean Desert as a unit for the purposes of investigation.
Archaeologists have found a lot of artifacts in the MurabBa’at caves in what is now the West Bank. This included the basket and a cache of rare coins from the days of the Bar Kokhba revolt, embossed with Jewish symbols such as harp and date palms.