Campus: CSU, Long Beach -- August 29, 2001

Team of Researchers from CSULB Makes Discovery Near Site of Dead Sea Scrolls

Qumran dig A team of researchers associated with California State University, Long Beach made international headlines during the summer when they uncovered human remains that may date back 2,000 years. The discovery was made at an archaeological dig near the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found more than 50 years ago.

Ron Dubay and Dennis Walker, two members of the team and both CSULB alumni, thought they were digging in the remains of a lookout tower on a knoll overlooking the Dead Sea, but with the discovery of the bones, it turns out the two were digging in the remains of some sort of a tomb.

"At the end of the day, it was sort of an ongoing joke: 'At breakfast, it was a lookout tower, but by lunch it was a mausoleum,'" explained Dubay, who earned his B.A. and M.A. at Cal State Long Beach. "The significance of the find is that from what we are able to presently determine, you probably have a very important person from around the period of the first century who has some attachment to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and this can probably give us some better insight into when the scrolls were written, who wrote them and why."

Considered among the greatest archeological finds of the last century, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 11 caves along the Dead Sea. Consisting of tens of thousands of fragments unearthed from 1947 to 1956, the ancient documents are written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek on animal skins and papyrus. The biblical and non-biblical texts include the oldest version of almost every book of the Hebrew bible, scriptural commentaries and other writings chronicling Holy Land life during the time of Jesus.

Dubay and Walker were part of a team of five members selected and put together by Robert Eisenman, the head of the Institute for Judeo-Christian Origins at CSULB and a professor of Middle East religions and archaeology in the CSULB Religious Studies Department. While Professor Eisenman, who has been one of the moving forces in the struggle to free the Scrolls over the last 10 years, did not go himself, he sent his son Hanan Eisenman, a history graduate from UC Berkeley and the holder of a diploma from the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies at Oxford University, with his wife to represent him on this dig.

All of the other members of the Cal State team, including Noelle Kinley, presently finishing up her degree in religious studies and the head of the Religious Studies Student Organization, have ties to Cal State Long Beach and were participating in a joint dig headed by both American and Israeli archaeologists and sponsored by the John and Carol Merrill Foundation at Qumran, near the borders of Israel and Jordan. The site overlooks the Dead Sea and is located only a few hundred yards away from the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

The overall director of the dig was Professor Richard Freund of the University of Hartford and, besides Professor Eisenman, other co-directors were Professor Hanan Eshel of the University of Bar-Ilan in Israel and Magen Broshi, the former director of the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.

The two-and-a-half week dig involved about 25 to 30 individuals from seven universities, including the University of Nebreska, the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, the University of California at Irvine, and UC Berkeley. Also involved were a team of Nova filmmakers and Komex International, a company in Calgary, Canada.

The Cal State Long Beach crew was sent out to the knoll with the "lookout tower" to attempt to determine when the structure was built by searching the site for pottery rims and handles which can be dated with a reasonable level of accuracy. After two days, Dubay said they hadn't found much, and on the third day, the group was going to be moved to another site.

"Dennis and I thought we would stick it out just a little bit longer and dig down another six inches to see what we could find," Dubay recalled. "He was digging up material with a trowel and I would sift it to see if there was anything of importance in with the dirt.

"After about an hour of this, Dennis suddenly uncovered three vertebrae," Dubay added. "You know, as you're looking at it, you don't exactly know what it is, but you feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up."

The two dug a little bit more and found a piece of a cranium. It was at that point they stopped and got the head archaeologist to take a look at what they had found. The bones were determined to be human, and the focus of the dig moved to this particular site.

It took two days to dig up the rest of the human bones, and judging from the way the bones were laid, it was determined that this was a secondary burial. This indicated that the person had died somewhere else, and the remains were transported and laid to rest in the mausoleum.

Most of those involved with the dig agree the person buried in the mausoleum was an important individual. The other graves in the site are just mounds of stone, and no other remains were buried inside a mausoleum. The chances of identifying whose remains were found are slim, but that doesn't diminish the find for Dubay and Walker.

"I believe what we found is very significant," Dubay said. "And, if nothing else, it will raise a lot of questions for scholars to chew on for the next 10 years or so."

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