Toilet evidence links Dead Sea Scrolls to sect
Following directions found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeologists have discovered the latrines used by the sect that produced the scrolls...
Los Angeles Times
Following directions found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeologists have discovered the latrines used by the sect that produced the scrolls, discovering that efforts to achieve ritual purity inadvertently exposed members to intestinal parasites that shortened their lifespan.
The discovery of the unique toilet area provides further evidence linking the scrolls to Qumran — an association that recently has been called into question by a small but vociferous group of archaeologists who have argued that the settlement was a pottery factory, a country villa or a Roman fortress, but not a monastery.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, the revisionists claim, were actually hidden in the caves of Qumran by Jews fleeing the devastation of Jerusalem during the Roman suppression beginning in A.D. 66.
The majority of archaeologists, in contrast, argue that the scrolls were copies produced by a small sect, generally called the Essenes, who lived at Qumran.
Because the location of the latrine was specified in two of the most important scrolls found at the site, its discovery provides strong evidence associating the settlement with the scrolls, said archaeologist James Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, one of the co-authors of a paper appearing in the international journal Revue de Qumran.
In 1947, Bedouin tribesmen discovered three ancient manuscripts in a cave on the shore of the Dead Sea, about 10 miles south of Jericho. Subsequent searches revealed about 900 manuscripts and fragments dating from about 250 B.C. to A.D. 68.
Some manuscripts are copies of books of the Old Testament, while others are related to more mundane aspects of life.
Dead Sea Scrolls in Seattle
Ten of the Dead Sea Scrolls are on display at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle through Jan. 7, one of the rare times the actual scrolls can be seen outside of Israel. More information at: www.pacsci.org
The Essenes are one of the few ancient groups whose toiletry practices were documented. The first century Jewish historian Josephus noted that members of the group normally went outside the city and dug a hole, where they buried their waste.
Two of the Dead Sea Scrolls note that the latrines should be situated northwest of the settlement, at a distance of 1,000 to 3,000 cubits — about 450 to 1,350 yards — and out of sight of the settlement.
Tabor and Joe Zias of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an expert on ancient latrines, went to the site and took samples.
Zias sent samples to anthropologist Stephanie Harter-Lailheugue of the CNRS Laboratory for Anthropology in Marseilles, France, who found preserved eggs and other remnants of roundworms, tapeworms and pinworms, all human intestinal parasites.
Samples from the surrounding areas contained no parasites. Had the waste been dumped on the surface, as is the practice of Bedouins in the area, the parasites quickly would have been killed by sunlight. Buried, they could persist for a year or longer, infecting anyone who walked through the soil.
The situation was made worse by the Essenes having to pass through an immersion cistern, or Miqvot, before returning to the settlement. The water would have served as a major breeding ground for the parasites.
"The graveyard at Qumran is the unhealthiest group I have ever studied in over 30 years," Zias said. Fewer than 6 percent of the men buried there survived to age 40, he said. In contrast, cemeteries from the same period excavated at Jericho show that half the males lived beyond age 40.
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