Part 3. When Was the Compound Occupied?

Archaeologists use several methods and types of evidence to determine when a site was occupied, including stratigraphy, typology, and explicitly dated materials (coins, texts). In addition, carbon-14 tests can be used on organic materials, such as parchments (animal skins).

Stratigraphy is the analysis of a sequence of layers, buildings and other features of a site. Archaeologists dig trenches to expose the features of a site, and then use that initial sounding to follow the walls and cavities that they discover. The presumption is that higher layers represent later occupations, although there can be complications (as when a garbage pit is dug, or when ancients transferred "rubble" from one room to another space).

Typology refers to the study and classification of certain artifacts that can be grouped together because they share important characteristics. Examples would be ceramic or pottery, glass, textiles, and tools. Within a given category, analysis can determine the geographic origin and rough date of a given piece.

Explicitly dated materials include coins most commonly, but can also include what are called "documentary texts," which are deeds of sale, rental contracts, I.O.U.'s, marriage contracts, or deeds of gift like the ostracon (inscribed piece of pottery) to the right. Ancient coins were stamped, as ours are, with dates, although not with absolute dates, since there was no universally agreed-upon calendar. Rather, the date would be "year 'x'" of a particular ruler's reign. Documentary texts, for their part, begin with a date clause which also indicates "year 'x'" of someone's rule. The date clause in the deed to the left is "In the first year of...," probably in the first year of the liberation of Israel, that is, the first year of its revolt (66 C.E.). When these kinds of documents are found in a particular stratum, that stratum can be dated with some confidence.
Together, this evidence can yield the history of a site's occupation, though since evidence can be read several ways, archaeologists are under a special obligation to publish a final report detailing their excavations. That was never done for the Qumran site, so the following evidence will be derived from De Vaux's preliminary reports, VanderKam and some of Magness’s work in trying to piece together whatever evidence is available to us.

Evidence & Questions
This part of the project will focus on the coin evidence, since it was central to De Vaux's determination of the chronology of the settlement and because the dates are pretty straightforward.
De Vaux found coins ranging in date over a 355-year period, as illustrated in the Table below. He had other evidence to help interpret the coins, such as the stratigraphy of their location. But you have much of his evidence in the chart below. Your job will be to review the Table and reconstruct the history of the settlement based on the evidence.
Coin or numismatic evidence is a little tricky. By virtue of its dates, it gives us the terminus post quem, or earliest date that the coin could have appeared at the site; a coin minted in 100 B.C.E. could not appear at the site before that date. But the coin could have appeared at the site as long as it was in circulation, and we usually don't know how long a period that was for most coins.
Evidence from Qumran
223-187 B.C.E.
Seleucid (=Greek)
Antiochus III
1-2 bronze
175-164 B.C.E.
Seleucid (=Greek)
Antiochus IV
1-2 bronze
145-139 B.C.E.
Seleucid (=Greek)
Demetrius II
1 silver
139/138-129 B.C.E.
Seleucid (=Greek)
Antiochus VII
3-5 silver
1-2 bronze
134-104 B.C.E.
John Hyrcanus
1 coin
126-9/8 B.C.E.
561 silver tetradrachmas
104-103 B.C.E.
1 coin
103-76 B.C.E.
Alexander Jannaeus
143 coins
76-67 B.C.E.
Alexandra Salome
and Hyrcanus II
1 coin
63-40 B.C.E.
Hyrcanus II
5 coins
40-37 B.C.E.
Antigonus Archelaus
4 coins
37-4 B.C.E.
Herod the Great
10 coins
4 B.C.E.-6 C.E.
Herod Archelaus
16 coins
41-44 C.E.
Agrippa I
78 coins
41-68 C.E.
Procuratorial Period
91 coins (46 from Nero's reign, 54-68C.E.; 13 of these found above level of ash otherwise dated to 68 C.E.)
66-68 C.E.
First Jewish Revolt
0 from Year 1 (66 C.E.)
83 from Year 2
5 from Year 3
0 from Year 4 (69 C.E.)
132-135 C.E.
Second Jewish Revolt
2-3 coins

1 "Fouille au Khirbet Qumrân," Revue Biblique (hereafter RB) 60 (1953) 83-106; "Fouilles au Khirbet Qumrân," RB 61 (1954) 206-36; and "Fouilles de Khirbet Qumrân," RB 63 (1956) 533-77.

Question #1. Based on the above evidence, determine the period of occupation of the Qumran site. Account for variations in the numbers of coins found in particular periods. Can you make any educated guesses about the period from 68 B.C.E.-135 C.E. (note denominations of coins and gaps in coin evidence, which suggest periods when the site was not occupied and/or a subsequent change in occupants). What are some of the difficulties in using numismatic (coin) evidence? Compare with Magness’ Archaeology of Qumran, p. 10; compare also how de Vaux divided the main periods of occupation based on the coin evidence (Magness p. 58 and MeaningDSS p. 44)

(For further information about the scientific methods involved in the study of Qumran, see The Qumran Science Center, Hebrew University, Jerusalem)