goal of our excavation at Qumran in 1995/6 and 2001 was to better understand
daily life in Qumran, and particularly how and where the Qumranites lived. There
is a difference between the natural limestone caves, where living conditions
are inconvenient, and the marl caves, which can be used for comfortable dwellings.
The marl caves are easier to carve and shape. The high water content in the
marl also makes life pleasant in these caves by adding moisture and lowering
the temperature. The marl caves have level floors and are sometimes equipped
with niches used for storage.
Before our excavation in 1995/6 we knew of three artificial caves beneath the plateau on which the site of Qumran was built, while on the cliff west of the site five caves were known. In 1995/6 six caves north of the aqueduct were examined. The precarious state of those caves made excavation too dangerous.
In 1989, R. Eisenman conducted a survey of the vicinity of Khirbet Qumran with a GPR, and found two anomalies. Our own GPR scan in 2001 of the same area confirmed the presence of one of these anomalies. However, it was a layer of stones between two marl layers. We also found nothing of archaeological significance along the entire spur west of the ruins. The other anomaly Eisenman discovered was the remains of a collapsed cave which we excavated, uncovering evidence of habitation.
To date, with the two caves excavated by us north of the Community Center in 1995/6 and the new cave excavated in 2001 the total number of artificial caves is eleven. The discovery of yet another collapsed cave on the spur extending south of the ruins of Qumran strengthens the idea that there were many artificial caves in the marl cliffs surrounding the ruins that were used as residential caves. A considerable number of the caves dug in the marl have collapsed and disappeared, due to earthquakes, rains, and flash floods. Sometime the only evidence for eroded caves are the trails and stairs leading to them. These finds confirm the hypothesis that most of the Qumran members were living in the artificial marl caves. We estimate that there existed between twenty and forty artificial caves in the gullies near Wadi Qumran.