is an archaeological truism that the function of a particular settlement cannot
be understood without analyzing its regional context. The high potential of
such a regional approach has already been convincingly demostrated in other
regions of ancient Palestine, e.g. the Galilee. A growing wealth of archaeological
data excavated both at Qumran itself and its surroundings around the Dead Sea
now provide the basis for applying a regional perspective to Qumran, a site
that, on the basis of textual data, has so far usually been described as "secluded"
The paper surveys the regional infrastructure (roads, a number of neighboring sites) and collects relevant data from Qumran (ceramics, glass, organic remains) to assess to what degree Qumran was part of the regional profile of material culture and economic life. It turns out that Qumran in fact was not isolated, instead its inhabitants were engaged in limited regional trade and functioned within the specialized economy of the Dead Sea region (balsam and date palm groves). If the region west of the Dead Sea indeed was inhabited by Essenes, as Pliny and other ancient literary sources suggest, they very likely did not leave any identifiable traces in the archaeological record. Dissenting views in theological matters, as they are known from the Essenes, did not directly lead to group-specific segments of material culture.
Thus, a consequently archaeological approach under a regional perspective initiates a new dialogue between the textual and material record regarding the identity of the inhabitants of Qumran and their relationship to the Essenes.