Part 1. Introduction
A natural starting point for studying the Dead Sea Scrolls is to study the archaeology of the caves and the nearby ruins at Wadi Qumran. This web project will introduce you to the archaeological evidence and will ask you to work with your partner(s) to make several deductions from the evidence. Ariel_view_of_the_site.jpg
Each of the eight pages of the project introduces you to some central question about the site. This page, part 1, simply provides information, but parts 2-8 will also ask you and your partner(s) to answer some questions. Discuss your answers together during class, and then write up your results, using the part number and opening question on each page as your headers. (This is a long written assignment).
It is strongly recommended that you work through the topics in their natural sequence. The pages are designed to take ½-hour each, so you should be able to work through roughly four during each class day. Please plan so that at least one member of your group brings his/her laptop during the class period each day.
Two further notes about how to use this site. Be sure to use the "back" button on your browser to return to the original page. Also, references to course texts will appear in bold, while references to articles we have read or will read are linked to ERes, where you can find the articles. Finally, navigation at the bottom of each page will take you to the other pages of the project.

(For further information or your own personal interest, you might also compare this site: Virtual Qumran)

Aerial Sequence
The sequence of photos you will first see is a series of aerial shots taken from different angles and at different points in time. This photograph must have been taken sometime from 1951-1954, because when you compare it to some of the photographs below, only the outlines of buildings are visible, and there's still a lot of unexcavated earth in those buildings. The sequence of photos begins with this exposure from the south end of the compound looking north, and will continue as if we were flying around the east side (right edge) of the compound. This fly-around will help to orient you to the site.

There are a few features worth pointing out. First, notice the cliffs to the upper left of the photograph. The promontory is where the first Cave, Cave 1, was found. Cave 2 is in that same cliff, while Caves 3 and 11 are even further up the coast. Second, though the Dead Sea is not visible in this photo, it lies off the right side of the picture. Third, notice that the compound sits on a promontory of its own. This promontory will often be referred to as the "marl terrace," to distinguish it from the harder limestone cliffs like those in the upper left. Finally, notice that there's been a lot of erosion in this marl material as spring rains have washed down from the cliffs. Arial_view_of_the_site2.jpg

This photograph was taken at approximately the same time as the first, and from the southern end of the compound, but now we are much closer to the site, so that its features are more clear.

Plan of the Settlement at Khirbet Qumran at the Time of the Earthquake (31 BCE) (1)corners of the 8th-6th century BCE enclosure; (2)tower; (3)stairs leading to the room identified by the excavators as the scriptorium on the upper floor; (4)room with low benches around its walls; (5)room designated by the excavators as the scriptorium; (6)kitchen; (7)dyer’s chop; (8)laundry; (9)pottery; (10)potter’s kilns; (11)wall separating the settlement from the cemetery; (12)meeting hall; (13)pantry; (14)workshops; (15)junction of the aqueduct with the canals of the settlement; (16)main canal; (17)large cisterns; (18)earthquake fault; (19) stables; (20)retaining wall along the western edge of the plateau. From J.T. Milik, Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea. London:SCM Press, 1963, 48.


If you imagine this schema is tilted about a few degrees counterclockwise, you should be able to match its features with hints of those rooms on this photograph. Also compare the maps in pp. xiii-xiv in Magness if you have her book available.

This photograph provides a good illustration of how archaeologists work. You'll remember from the Magness reading that the first archaeological excavation was conducted at the ruins ("Khirbet") of Qumran in 1951. That expedition was under the direction of G. Lankester Harding (Director, Department of Antiquities of Jordan) and Roland de Vaux, O.P. (École Biblique et Archéologique Française, Jerusalem). Subsequent seasons of excavation were carried out by de Vaux in the winters of 1953-1956. The archaeological exploration of an area usually begins with a survey, in which small trenches are dug at various locations to see if any building remnants survive. When walls are located, the trench is continued alongside them. After the walls are established, the rooms between them are excavated. This picture was taken after the walls had been determined, but before the rooms had been excavated.

Notice also the 6-square-grid in the bottom right of the photo. This is another technique, in which square areas are excavated, leaving walkways or "balks" between them for walking. This method also helps to expose walls.
Whichever technique is used, an important archaeological technique is illustrated, namely "stratigraphy." Archaeologists determine the dating of parts of a site by what is on top of what. If a layer of ash lies on top of a layer of pots that date to a certain period, then the archaeologist can safely presume that a fire occurred at the end of that (pottery) period.


While excavations were being conducted at the compound site, the same archaeologists were also excavating as many caves as they could in the vicinity. The Bedouin of the region had located the richest caves, but archaeologists had no way of knowing where the fragments they bought from the Bedouin had come from. By excavating the caves, such as Caves 4-5 circled in white on the photo, they found pieces of some of the same mauscripts the Bedouin had sold them, thus confirming where at least some of those purchased fragments had come from. The archaeologists also found pottery, leather, and metal implements in the caves, which helped to establish some connections with the nearby compound.


This illustrates a principle of archaeology, which is that proximity or nearness of artifacts helps to establish their meaning. The pottery found in the caves was like the pottery found at the compound, which suggested that the other contents of the caves, the scrolls, were also associated with the compound.


In this more recent photograph, we are flying over the northern edge of the Qumran compound. If refer to Milik’s map (above), you are approximately where the North-South circle is in the upper right corner, looking back at the compound.
You can get a good sense from this photograph of the eastern wall that runs along the left edge of the compound, of the eroded cliff to its right, and thus of how the compound sits on a promontory or cliff. A jumble of stones to the left of the eastern wall is the main cemetery of the complex.

This photo is taken from the highest elevation of the site. Try to trace the path that water would take from the bottom right elevation to the lowest elevation of the compound in the top left.


The Harding-DeVaux (1951) and DeVaux (1953-1956) excavations were carried out in the winter because summers in the Judean desert are brutal. Here, excavators' tents are set up in front of a staircase. Notice the meter-stick lying on the staircase. These are used in precise line-drawings and measurements of an archaeological site, and also help give an absolute measurement when photographs are taken.

In the photograph below, the two early, leading archaeologists are shown examining a juglet (deVaux on the left, Harding on the right). In between them is J. T. Milik, a Polish-born scholar who would play a huge part in deciphering and analyzing the scrolls.

Although DeVaux conducted excavations from 1951, 1953-1956 and published preliminary reports of his findings, he never completed a "Final Report" analyzing all the evidence of the site. This is been one of the primary reasons that Qumran has been and remains one of the most hotly contested archaeological sites in the Middle East.

Archaeologists depend on these final reports to get a sense of exactly what was found where. In the absence of these reports, there are a lot of open questions about the archaeology of the site, questions to which we now turn.

Ecole biblique day with Stefan (13).JPG
The "locked-down" remains from R. de Vaux's Qumran excavations, at l'Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem, with Fr. Dr. Jean-Baptiste Humbert