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When this was levered aside, a cave was discovered with a large number of small niches set into the walls. There were also other objects, including some metal plates and rolled lead scrolls.The cave is less than 100 miles from Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and around 60 miles from Masada, scene of the last stand and mass suicide of an extremist Zealot sect in the face of a Roman Army siege in 72AD – two years after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.This interpretation of the books as proto-Christian artefacts is supported by Margaret Barker, former president of the Society for Old Testament Study and one of Britain’s leading experts on early Christianity.The fact that a figure is portrayed would appear to rule out these codices being connected to mainstream Judaism of the time, where portrayal of lifelike figures was strictly forbidden because it was considered idolatry.

The star shapes in a long line represent the House of Jesse – and then the pattern is repeated.Many of the books are sealed on all sides with metal rings, suggesting they were not intended to be opened.This could be because they contained holy words which should never be read.In this context, it is important that while the Dead Sea Scrolls are rolled pieces of parchment or papyrus containing the earliest-known versions of books of the Hebrew Bible and other texts – the traditional Jewish format for written work – these lead discoveries are in book, or codex, form which has long been associated with the rise of Christianity.The codices seen by The Mail on Sunday range in size from smaller than 3in x 2in to around 10in x 8in.

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Even the maker’s fingerprint can be seen in the lead impression.