Dozens of alleged million-dollar forgeries of Dead Sea Scroll fragments have been peddled to unsuspecting buyers in recent years, according to The Times of Israel on Tuesday.
In the decades, since the historic discovery of authentic scrolls –– some 900 manuscripts and up to 50,000 fragments in the 11 caves of Qumran –– scholars are saying that the antiquities market has seen extensive fraud in the sale of artifacts purported to be centuries old.
Prominent among those who have reportedly fallen prey to the swindles is The Museum of the Bible, scheduled to open this November in Washington, D.C. The museum is thought to have paid out millions of dollars for the fake archeological treasures.
“There is a growing emerging consensus among Dead Sea Scroll scholars that many of the fragments in the private collections are fakes,” said paleographer Dr. Kipp Davis, an expert on the subject.
Davis believes that at least six of the museum’s 13 published fragments are forgeries, though he says “that number could be higher. There are people out there that think that all 13 of the fragments are fake. I’m not quite there, but I have colleagues who are fairly sure they are forgeries,” he said.
In an honest attempt to determine the authenticity or inauthenticity of their collection, the museum has actually been sponsoring Davis’s research and that of other scholars.
Scholars have for decades relied on the method of carbon dating to estimate the age of archeological finds, but it appears these that forgeries used ancient leather fragments as their “slate,” which standard dating would not pick up on.
“Carbon dating is no longer good. Ancient material can and almost certainly has been manipulated in modern times,” said Davis.
Other techniques have been employed instead, such as extremely high magnification to examine the parchments. In some cases, table salt crystals were apparently sprinkled on top of a fragment, upon which modern glossy black letters were written, over the salt.
“The crystals are of uniform size and dispersed in a manner consistent with dry common table salt sprinkled evenly on the object… Inspection at a higher magnification confirms that the crystal does not evolve from the plant material as it does not rupture the plant fibers, but rather sits on the ink surface touched up further with a glossy ink,” according to a recent article questioning the authenticity of items in the private, London- and Oslo-based Schøyen Collection.
“The writing and the deposition of the salts must have occurred in modern times,” the article concludes.
As the research continues, collectors are learning –– some of them the hard way –– to be wary of rare and precious finds from the Dead Sea.
The identities of the forgeries are not yet known.