Qumran Caves
The Qumran Caves are a series of caves, some natural, some artificial, to be found around the archaeological site of Qumran
Qumran is an archaeological site in the West Bank. It is located on a dry plateau about a mile inland from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, near the Israeli settlement and kibbutz of Kalia...

. It is in a number of these caves that the famous Dead Sea Scrolls
Dead Sea scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 972 texts from the Hebrew Bible and extra-biblical documents found between 1947 and 1956 on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, from which they derive their name...

 were found. The limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....

 cliffs above Qumran contain numerous caves that have been used over the millennia: the first traces of occupation are from the Chalcolithic period then onward to the Arab period. The artificial caves relate to the period of the settlement at Qumran and were cut into the marl bluffs of the terrace on which Qumran sits.
For an abbreviated list of scrolls found in the caves see here.

Scrolls in caves

In early 1947 or perhaps the previous year a Bedouin boy of the Ta'amireh tribe, Muhammid Ahmed el-Hamed
Muhammed edh-Dhib
Muhammad Ahmed al-Hamed , better known by his nickname Muhammed edh-Dhib , was a Bedouin shepherd from the Ta'amireh clans residing in Bethlehem, who discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in winter 1946/47....

 called edh-Dhib (the wolf), found a cave after searching for a lost animal. He had stumbled onto the first cave containing scrolls from two thousand years ago. More Ta'amireh visited the cave and scrolls were taken back to their encampment. They were eventually shown to Mar Samuel
Mar Samuel
Metropolitan Athanasius Yeshue Samuel , more often referred to as Mar Samuel, was a Metropolitan and Archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, as well as a central figure in the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls....

 of the Monastery of Saint Mark in April 1947 and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was made known. The location of the cave was not revealed for another 18 months, but eventually a joint investigation of the cave site was led by Roland de Vaux
Roland de Vaux
Father Roland Guérin de Vaux OP was a French Dominican priest who led the Catholic team that initially worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He was the director of the Ecole Biblique, a French Catholic Theological School in East Jerusalem, and he was charged with overseeing research on the scrolls...

 and Gerald Lankester Harding
Gerald Lankester Harding
Gerald Lankester Harding was the Director of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities for twenty years. His tenure spanned the period in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and brought to public awareness...

The interest in the scrolls with the hope of money from their sale initiated a long area-wide search by the Ta'amireh to find more such scrolls, the first result of which was the discovery of four caves in Wadi Murabba'at
Wadi Murabba'at
Wadi Murabba'at, also known as Nahal Darga, is a ravine cut by a seasonal stream which runs from the Judean desert east of Bethlehem past the Herodium down to the Dead Sea 18 km south of Khirbet Qumran...

 about 15 kilometers south of Qumran in 1951. In the Qumran area another cave was discovered, now referred to as Cave 2Q (1Q was the first scroll bearing cave), in February 1952. However, only a few fragments were found in the cave. Fear of the destruction of archaeological evidence with the discovery of caves by the Bedouin led to a campaign by the French and American Schools to explore all other caves to find any remaining scrolls. Although 230 natural caves, crevices and other possible hiding places were examined in an 8 kilometer area along the cliffs near Qumran, only 40 contained any artifacts and one alone, 3Q, produced texts, the most unique being the Copper Scroll
Copper Scroll
The Copper Scroll is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls found in Cave 3 near Khirbet Qumran, but differs significantly from the others. Whereas the other scrolls are written on parchment or papyrus, this scroll is written on metal: copper mixed with about 1 percent tin...


4Q was discovered in September 1952 by the Ta'amireh. De Vaux, on being offered a vast amount of fragments, contacted Harding who drove the Qumran site to find that the Bedouin had discovered caves very near the Qumran ruins. These were Caves 4Q, 5Q, and 6Q, the most important of which was 4Q which originally contained around three-quarters of all the scrolls found in the immediate Qumran area. The first two of these caves had been cut into the marl terrace. The third was at the entrance to the Qumran Gorge just below the aqueduct.

In 1955 a survey of the terrace brought to light a staircase leading down to the remains of three more artificial caves, 7Q, 8Q and 9Q at the end of the Qumran esplanade, all of which had collapsed and had been eroded, and a fourth cave, 10Q, on the outcrop which housed Caves 4Q & 5Q.

The last cave containing scrolls to be found, once again by the Ta'amireh, was 11Q. Among its contents was the Temple Scroll
Temple Scroll
The Temple Scroll is one of the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Among the discoveries at Qumran it is designated: 11QTemple Scrolla.1 It describes a Jewish temple which has never been built along with extensive detailed regulations about sacrifices and temple practices...

, though it had been spirited away and its recovery was to prove long and complex.

Artificial caves

In all there are ten marl cut caves in the near vicinity of Qumran: 4Qa, 4Qb, 5Q, 7Q, 8Q, 9Q, 10Q, an oval cave west of 5Q, and two caves to the north in a separate ravine. Their location necessitates a direct connection with the Qumran settlement. The three caves at the end of the esplanade could only be accessed via the settlement. These caves are thought to have been cut for storage and habitation. Marl
Marl or marlstone is a calcium carbonate or lime-rich mud or mudstone which contains variable amounts of clays and aragonite. Marl was originally an old term loosely applied to a variety of materials, most of which occur as loose, earthy deposits consisting chiefly of an intimate mixture of clay...

 is a soft stone and makes excavation relatively easy, but as seen with Caves 7Q - 9Q they haven't survived well.

4Q, which is now visible from the Qumran esplanade, is actually two caves, one adjacent to the other. De Vaux referred to them as 4a and 4b. When the Ta'amireh removed all the fragments they could before Harding's arrival, there was no way to tell which scrolls belonged to which cave, so they were later all catalogued simply as from 4Q. In excavating the caves hundreds of fragments were still to be found in 4a while only two or three fragments in 4b. 4a was 8m long and 3.25 m wide with tapering walls reaching 3m in height, all cut by hand.


In 1984-1985 Joseph Patrich and Yigael Yadin
Yigael Yadin
Yigael Yadin on 21 March 1917, died 28 June 1984) was an Israeli archeologist, politician, and the second Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces.-Early life and military career:...

 carried out a systematic survey of over 57 caves north of Qumran and two to the south. In 1985-1991 Patrich excavated five caves, including Caves 3Q and 11Q. One of Patrich's conclusions was that the caves "did not serve as habitations for the members of the Dead Sea Sect, but rather as stores and hiding places".

Patrich took a jack hammer into 3Q to break up and remove large fallen rocks in order to discover that under the rocks there were only a few Chalcolithic sherds, showing that the ceiling had collapsed before any Qumran era occupation could have happened. The cave was uninhabited and used only to store the scrolls left there.

In 1988 in the cave Patrich designated as Cave 13, just north of 3Q, a small juglet was found from the Herodian era, which was wrapped in palm fibres and contained a viscous liquid which Patrich presumed was aromatic balsam residue. In 1991 he discovered several jar stoppers and a complete jar along with date stones and dry dates suggesting occupation, but as the area in front of the cave showed no attempt to convert it into a terrace, he concluded that occupation was not of any length.

11Q was examined and no traces of Qumran era occupation was found. A cave Patrich called Cave 24, which lay between 11Q and 3Q, was large and habitable, but showed no sign of long-term habitation. Cave FQ37 (named in the 1952 survey) located high up on the cliff face 2 kilometers south of Qumran was also an improbable site for permanent dwelling, due to its inaccessibility.

Broshi and Eshel

In the winter of 1995-1996 Magen Broshi and Hanan Eshel carried out further excavations in the caves north of Qumran. They reported other caves not examined by Patrich and believed that they served as dwellings for the inhabitants of Qumran along with other artificial caves that have long ago eroded away from the edge of the marl terrace.

Broshi and Eshel concentrated their interest in the area just north of Qumran, examining two caves they designated as C and F in a small ravine. The former had part of its ceiling caved in and was filled with silt from flash floods, but contained 280 potsherds. Cave F had completely collapsed, but when excavated yielded 110 potsherds. They concluded that the area was residential.

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