Entire Dead Sea Scroll Fragment Collection at Washington, D.C.'s Museum of the Bible Is Fake, Investigation Reveals

A collection of valuable Dead Sea Scroll fragments held at a Washington, D.C. museum have turned out to be fakes, an investigation has revealed.

The term Dead Sea Scrolls (DDS) refers to the remains of between 800 and 900 ancient Jewish manuscripts which were found in a set of caves along the shore of the Dead Sea in the mid-20th century.

Considered to be among the most significant archaeological finds of all time, the scroll fragments—most of which are dated to between the third and first centuries B.C.—contain some of the earliest versions of biblical texts, as well other writings, shedding light on the history of the Jewish people and the origins of Christianity.

The majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls are currently held in the collection of the Israeli government, but some fragments can be found circulating on the private market—some of which are purchased by museums.

In 2016, 13 of the 16 fragments obtained by the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. were published by a team of experts. However, some expressed concern over the authenticity of these fragments given that all were purchased after 2002 when a significant number of suspected forgeries appeared on the market.

In fact, an investigation in 2018 conducted by a team of German experts had revealed that five of the fragments displayed "inconsistencies with ancient origins." These were subsequently removed from display.

Following this find the museum contacted Colette Loll—founder and director of Art Fraud Insights—in February 2019 to put together a team of experts of investigate the whether or not the 16 fragments held by the institution were authentic.

To determine the authenticity of the fragments, the team used a variety of techniques including examining them with both traditional and 3D microscopes, identifying the materials from which they were made, and analyzing the materials deposited on their surfaces.

"After an exhaustive review of all the imaging and scientific analysis results, it is evident that none of the textual fragments in Museum of the Bible's Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic," Loll concluded in a report describing the findings of the investigation. "Moreover, each exhibits characteristics that suggest they are deliberate forgeries created in the twentieth century with the intent to mimic authentic Dead Sea Scroll fragments."

Despite the unfortunate findings of the investigation, the museum has said that the research could have important positive implications.

Dead Sea Scrolls fragment
A small scroll fragment in Jerusalem on May 2, 2018. GALI TIBBON/AFP via Getty Images

"Notwithstanding the less than favorable results, we have done what no other institution with post-2002 DSS fragments has done," Museum of the Bible Chief Curatorial Officer Dr. Jeffrey Kloha said in a statement. "The sophisticated and costly methods employed to discover the truth about our collection could be used to shed light on other suspicious fragments and perhaps even be effective in uncovering who is responsible for these forgeries."

According to Kloha, the museum will now adapt the institution's DSS exhibit to narrate the history of the scrolls as well as the research into them.

"What Museum of the Bible is doing is extremely important in the museum world," Loll said in a statement. "Usually, items that are determined to be fake are quietly removed from display and transferred to the euphemistic 'study collection.' Museum of the Bible has opted to be as transparent as possible with its collection of Dead Sea Scrolls—from the interim gallery labels, to the public announcement of the results of the research and the subsequent release of all of the associated research materials. This data can now be used for comparison to other questioned fragments."