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Researcher Says Pottery Shards May Be 2,000-Year-Old Contract

February 22, 1996

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Clay shards, inscribed with Hebrew, that appear to be a nearly 2,000-year-old shipping list have been discovered near the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

They are the first written evidence of the daily life of the Essenes, the ascetic Jewish sect believed to have written the Dead Sea Scrolls, Esther Eshel, a specialist in ancient writings at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said today.

The shards were uncovered in a central living area near the caves where the scrolls were found from 1947 to 1956, in the Qumran area of the West Bank.

Eshel said two pieces of a clay vessel were inscribed with the words ``In the year 2 of ... in Jericho ... ″ There is also an inscription ``To Elazar″ and a mention of dates and figs.

The writing may have been a list of fruit being shipped to Qumran from Jericho, 10 miles to the north, Eshel said.

She believes ``the year 2″ refers to the second year of the Jewish revolt against the Romans, which started in 66 A.D. The site was destroyed in 68 A.D., two years before the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

Until now, most of what is known about the Essenes concerns their religious life, Eshel said. Pieces of jugs and pots were also found at the site, she said.

Eshel has sent photographs of the inscription to researchers in the United States for further study.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 11 caves near Qumran between 1947 and 1956, when the area was under Jordanian control. They contain the oldest known texts of the Old Testament, as well as messianic prophecies and moral teachings that shed light on Judaism at the time of Jesus and the origins of Christianity.

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