The Copper Scroll, a part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, has long fascinated archeologists and treasure hunters around the world. This ancient document is thought to be a treasure map that points to 64 locations where astonishing quantities of silver and gold are buried. In total, the scroll lists over 4,600 items made of precious metals, and the entire treasure is thought to be worth well over $1 billion in today’s money. Since its discovery, many experts have tried to crack open the message of the scroll and find the treasure, but no one has discovered the riches yet.
While the majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by Bedouins, the Copper Scroll was found by an archeologist on March 14, 1952, in Cave 3 near Qumran, an important archeological site in Israel. Despite being a part of the extraordinary collection of 1st-century documents, the Copper Scroll is significantly different from the other Dead Sea Scrolls. While the other scrolls are made of papyrus or parchment, the Copper Scroll is made of metal. The material is mostly copper combined with one percent tin. The scroll was originally eight feet long but got separated into two parts.
The other Dead Sea Scrolls are thought to be literary works, but the Copper Scroll is more like a treasure map. It is basically a comprehensive list of locations where over 4,600 items made of precious metals such as gold and silver are hidden or buried. The writing on the scroll is Hebrew, but it is similar to the language used in the Mishnah. The other Dead Sea Scrolls are written in literary Hebrew. The Copper Scroll also differs in its date, paleography, and orthography.
Due to corrosion, the Copper Scroll could not be unrolled at the time of discovery. To preserve its integrity, the Jordanian government had it sent to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. John Marco Allegro, a Dead Sea Scrolls expert, suggested cutting the scroll into sections to make the text easily readable. Between 1955 and 1956, the scroll was cut into 23 strips, and the contents were transcribed.
Józef Milik, the first transcriber and editor, proposed that the scroll was made by the Essenes, but he also mentioned that it may not have been their official work. At first, he believed the scroll to be more of folklore, but his views later changed. He hypothesized that the scroll was not made by the Qumran community, and that it was not deposited along with the other Dead Sea Scrolls. The Copper Scroll is thought to have been placed in the cave much later.
In 1962, Milik published an edition of the scroll with hand-drawn transcriptions. He also attached a few black-and-white photos of the scroll, but they were deemed illegible. In 1988, the scroll was photographed again with better equipment and precision. Between 1994 and 1996, the Electricité de France took charge of the scroll’s conservation efforts, which included cleaning, making x-rays, taking photographs, evaluating corrosion levels, and drawing the letters. The later editions of the scroll benefited greatly from the results.
Dating the Copper Scroll has not been easy, and different scholars have varying opinions on the probable age of the scroll. Based on paleographical evidence, professor Frank Moore Cross Jr. of Harvard University proposed that the scroll was created between 25 to 75 CE. However, American archaeologist William Foxwell Albright placed the Copper Scroll somewhere between 70 and 135 CE. Other experts have aimed for a similar period as they believed that the treasure mentioned in the scroll was gathered sometime between the First Jewish–Roman War (66 to 73 CE) and the Bar Kokhba revolt (132 to 136 CE).
According to Józef Milik, the Copper Scroll dates back to 100 CE, long after Jerusalem was destroyed. If his theory is correct, it would mean that the scroll was not made by the Qumran community as the settlement was already gone by then.
The Copper Scroll is no ordinary ancient document. It is a treasure map that points to 64 different locations, and 63 of those locations are said to have large quantities of silver and gold. For instance, one of the locations is said to have 900 talents or 868,000 troy ounces of gold. The final listing mentions a duplicate document that is designed to provide additional information. However, that document has not yet been discovered.
Each entry in the scroll follows a distinct pattern, and it goes something like this: i) the general location, ii) the specific location (sometimes with instructions on how deep to dig), and iii) what to find. When translated to English, the opening lines read:
“1:1 In the ruin that is in the valley of Acor, under
1:2 the steps, with the entrance at the East,
1:3 a distance of forty cubits: a strongbox of silver and its vessels
1:4 with a weight of seventeen talents. KεN”
Some people believe that one of the treasures from the list can be found in the Cave of Letters. If that is true, the items may have already been recovered. The writing on the scroll is fairly cryptic, and it is impossible to know for certain where the treasure is buried. Although experts and treasure hunters from around the world have tried to find the riches that are said to be worth over $1 billion, no one has found it yet.
Since its discovery, the Copper Scroll has appeared in popular media and literature. Author Lionel Davidson wrote and published the thriller novel called A Long Way to Shiloh in 1966. Joel C. Rosenberg published a political thriller called The Copper Scroll in 2006. The Copper Scroll and the search for the hidden treasures have also been featured in the History Channel’s Digging for the Truth series.
The Copper Scroll was put on display at the Jordan Museum in Amman in 2013, and it is there to this day.