Full-scale excavations of Qumran began after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the late nineteen forties. In the winter of 1946-7, Bedouin shepherd Muhammed Edh-Dhib went into a cave near Qumran and emerged with 7 ancient scrolls. The war that broke out in the years that followed made it impossible to explore the cave until February 1949. It was then that Lancaster Harding, director of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, and Roland de Vaux, of the Palestine Archaeological Museum, arrived at the cave, known as Cave 1, and began to dig. Soon de Vaux was given authorization to conduct a full scale excavation of the area.
The site that de Vaux uncovered contains two sections: the main building, a two story structure with a central courtyard and a defensive tower on its corner; and a secondary building to the west. The excavation also revealed a complex water system featuring an aqueduct that delivered water to several cisterns and ritual baths around the site, two of which were within the walls of the main building. These findings indicated a community that was consistently developing, with many improvements and new projects undertaken to accommodate growth.
The contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which continued to be discovered in nearby caves throughout De Vaux’s excavations of the main site, led scholars to conclude Qumran was inhabited by a sectarian religious community. Additional texts, like the historical accounts of Josephus Flavius, Philo, and Pliny the Elder, led De Vaux and others to adopt the theory that the site was inhabited by a sect of highly ritualistic Jews called the Essenes (despite the fact that the term “Essene” does not appear in the scrolls themselves).
Although de Vaux’s excavations of Qumran were quite exhaustive, and thereby the most important source of information on the settlement, there have been several excavations since de Vaux finished his work, notably:
• The 1967 restoration performed by R.W. Dajjani on behalf of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities
• A systematic survey of the caves and pathways around Qumran conducted by Joseph Patrich and Yigael Yadin between 1984 and 1991. Patrich concluded that the caves were not inhabited by the Dead Sea Sect, but were rather used as hiding places and storage.
• “Operation Scroll”: from November 1993 to January 1994, under the direction of Amir Drori and Yitzhak Magen, the Israel Antiquities Authority carried out works in the Qumran compound.
• In the winter of 1995-1996 and later seasons Magen Broshi and Hanan Eshel carried out further excavations in the caves north of Qumran, in the cemetery and in marl terrace caves.
• Continued excavations as recent as 2010.