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Newly Discovered Qumran Photographs from the 1950s

This is in reference to 'New Photographs of the Qumran Excavations from 1954 and Interpretations of L.77 and L.86' Wagemakers, Bart; Taylor, Joan E. Palestine Exploration Quarterly (ISSN: 0031-0328); Volume 143, No. 2, pp. 134-156(23); July 2011 Maney Publishing.

In 1947, the first cave containing manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls was found by Bedouin shepherds, north of an ancient ruin known as Khirbet Qumran near the Dead Sea. Originally known as the ‘Ain Feshkha Cave’, the manuscripts and other artefacts in Qumran Cave 1 (1Q) illuminated both the history of the Biblical text and the variety of thought in early Judaism, and caused an international sensation. The nearby site of Qumran itself was excavated over five seasons from 1951, under the directorship of Father Roland de Vaux, of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem. De Vaux concluded that this remote and unusual site was occupied by a little-known ‘sect’ of Judaism mentioned by Josephus, Philo, Pliny and Dio Chrysostom: the Essenes. It was suggested that they hid the Dead Sea Scrolls ahead of the Roman army’s arrival in 68 CE.

While de Vaux published a number of important preliminary reports, he summarised the excavations synthetically only in his Schweich Lectures, for the British Academy, in 1959. After his death in 1971, de Vaux’s field notes and materials on Qumran remained unknown until Jean-Baptiste Humbert and Alain Chambon published these in 1994 with a dossier of important plans and photographs from the excavation. This publication was followed by a scientific volume. Nevertheless, there are points in de Vaux’s field notes where readings are doubtful, and, in addition, there are many aspects of the site that remained unclear during the course of excavations and areas undocumented by photographs.

This has led to various disputes among archaeologists, particularly in regard to the site’s chronology, with its occupation beginning in the Iron Age, continuing with a new settlement after a hiatus of some 500 years. De Vaux believed the second settlement here began in the late 2nd century BCE and ended around 70 CE. The precise date for the beginning and end of this second period of settlement, and the internal divisions of its different phases, remains disputed, though many scholars now see the beginning of this occupation (start of Period Ia, so Magness) as being in the early 1st century BCE and the end in the final decade of the 1st century CE (end of Period III, so Taylor).

Doubts have also arisen about the identity of the site’s occupants, and the purpose of the settlement. Alan D. Crown and Lena Cansdale have suggested that Qumran from the 1st century BCE to 1st century CE was a commercial located on a significant trade route, with the settlement serving as a fort designed to guard an important pass or villa. Norman Golb argued Qumran of this time was a secular fortress.  According to Yizhar Hirschfeld, following the suggestions of Robert and Pauline Donceel-Voûte, Qumran was a fortified villa that functioned in connection with the lucrative opobalsam trade, being connected by roads to En Gedi and Jericho, as well as to Hyrcania and Jerusalem. Yizhak Magen and Yuval Peleg have suggested that Qumran was a fortress that was turned into a pottery manufacturing centre. However, both Jodi Magness and Hanan Eshel have continued to defend many of de Vaux’s most significant conclusions, and have stressed the site’s key identification as an Essene settlement.

Given the many controversies about the nature of the site of Qumran and the interpretation of its material remains, any new data that sheds light on the excavations is welcome. The photographs provided here have been recently discovered by Bart Wagemakers in a rich archive belonging to Prof. Leo Boer, now held by his widow Annemie Boer. In 1954, Leo Boer was a 26-year-old student of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem who visited Qumran during the third campaign of excavations (13 February–14 April 1954).

His photographs indicate the huge energy of the excavations and their rapid progress, as well as providing evidence of obscure areas of the site. In addition, Bart Wagemakers was also entrusted with photographs by a journalist, Peter Pennarts, taken at the same time, which are equally important. The Palestine Exploration Fund is pleased to exhibit these photographs with comparative modern photographs and explanatory captions written by Bart Wagemakers and Joan Taylor, and is very grateful to both Annemie Boer and Peter Pennarts for permission to make the 1950s images available.

No publication of these photographs is allowed without written permission from the copyright holders.


To view the photographs with full labels, please view the entire set on flickr.


Crown, Alan D. and Cansdale, Lena (1994). ‘Qumran: Was it an Essene Settlement?’Biblical Archaeology Review 20: 24-35, 73-74, 76-78.

Cansdale, Lena (1997). Qumran and the Essenes: A Re-Evaluation of the Evidence (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr).

Donceel, Robert and Donceel-Voûte, Pauline (1994).  ‘The Archaeology of Khirbet Qumran,’ in Michael Wise, Norman Golb, John J. Collins, Dennis Pardee (eds),Methods of Investigations of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Khirbet Qumran Site: Present Realities and Future Prospects (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 722: New York), 1-38.

Donceel, Robert and Donceel-Voûte, Pauline (1998). ‘Poursuite des travaux de publication du matériel archéologique de Khirbet Qumrân: Les lampes en terre cuite,’ in Mogilany 1995: Papers on the Dead Sea Scrolls Offered in Memory of Aleksy Klawek., ed. Z. J. Kapera (Qumranica Mogilanensia 15; Cracow: Enigma Press), 87-104.

Donceel-Voûte, Pauline (1994). ‘Les ruines de Qumrân réinterprétées,’Archéologia 298 : 24-35.

----- (1998). ‘Traces of Fragrance along the Dead Sea,’ Res Orientales 11: 93-124.

Eshel, Hanan (2009).  Qumran: Scrolls, Caves, History (Jerusalem: Carta).

Golb, Norman (1995).   Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Search for the Secret of Qumran (New York: Scribner).

Hirschfeld, Yizhar (1998). ‘Early Roman Manor Houses in Judea and the Site of Khirbet Qumran,’  Journal of Near Eastern Studies 57/3: 161-189.

----- (2000a). ‘The Architectural Context of Qumran,’ In The Dead Sea Scrolls: Fifty Years after Their Discovery. Proceedings of the Jerusalem Congress, July 20-25, 1997, ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman, Emanuel Tov, and James C. VanderKam, 673-683. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society in cooperation with the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum).

----- (2000b). ‘A Community of Hermits above Ein Gedi,’ Cathedra 96: 8-40 (Heb.).

----- (2002). ‘Qumran in the Second Temple Period. Reassessing the Archaeological Evidence,’ Liber Annuus 52: 247-296.

----- (2004). Qumran in Context: Reassessing the Archaeological Evidence(Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers).

----- (2006).  ‘Qumran in the Second Temple Period: A Reassessment,’ in The Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Archaeological Interpretations and Debates. Proceedings of the Conference Held at Brown University, November 17-19, 2002, ed. Katharina Galor, Jean-Baptiste Humbert, and Jürgen Zangenberg (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 57; Leiden: Brill, 2005), 223-39.

Humbert, Jean-Baptiste and Chambon, Alain  (1994). Fouilles de Khirbet Qumrân et de Ain Feshka I: Album de photographies. Répertoire du fonds photographiques. Synthèse des notes de chantier du Père Roland de Vaux(Novum Testamentum et Orbis Antiquus, Series Archaeologica 1; Fribourg: Editions universitaires).

Humbert Jean-Baptiste and Gunneweg, Jan  (2003).  Khirbet Qumran and `Ain Feshkha II: Études d’anthropologie, de physique et de chimie (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht; Fribourg: Editions universitaires).

Magen, Yizhak and Peleg, Yuval (2006).  ‘Back to Qumran: Ten Years of Excavation and Research, 1993-2004,’ in Katharina Galor, Jean-Baptiste Humbert and Jürgen Zangenberg, eds. Qumran, the Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Archaeological Interpretations and Debates (Leiden/Boston: Brill), 55-113.

----- (2007). The Qumran Excavations 1993-2004: Preliminary Report (Judea and Samaria Publications 6; Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority).

Magness, Jodi (1996). ‘What Was Qumran? Not a Country Villa,’ Biblical Archaeology Review 22/6 38: 40-47, 72-73.

----- (1998a). ‘The Archaeology of Qumran: A Review,’ Qumran Chronicle 8/1-2: 49-62.

----- (1998b). ‘The Chronology of Qumran, Ein Feshkha, and Ein El-Ghuweir.’ InMogilany 1995: Papers on the Dead Sea Scrolls Offered in Memory of Aleksy Klawek, ed. Zdzislaw Jan Kapera, 55-76. (Kraków: Enigma Press).

----- (1998c).  ‘Two Notes on the Archaeology of Qumran,’ Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 312: 37-44.

----- (1998-d). ‘Qumran Archaeology: Past Perspectives and Future Prospects,’  in The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years: A Comprehensive Assessment, ed. Peter W. Flint and James C. VanderKam, 2 vols. (Leiden: Brill), 1: 47-77.

----- (2000). ‘A Reassessment of the Excavations of Qumran,’ in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Fifty Years after Their Discovery. Proceedings of the Jerusalem Congress, July 20-25, 1997, ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman, Emanuel Tov, and James C. VanderKam (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society in cooperation with the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum), 708-719.

----- (2002).    The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans).

----- (2004a). Debating Qumran: Collected Essays on its Archaeology. (Interdisciplinary Studies in Ancient Culture and Religion 4; Dudley, Mass.: Peeters).

---- (2004b). ‘Why Scroll Jars?’  in Religion and Society in Roman Palestine: Old Questions, New Approaches, ed. Douglas R. Edwards (London: Routledge), 146-61.

Taylor, Joan (2006). ‘Kh. Qumran in Period III,’ in Qumran, the Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Archaeological Interpretations and Debates, proceedings of a conference held at Brown University, Nov. 17-19, 2002, edited by Katharina Galor, Jean-Baptiste Humbert and Jurgen Zangenburg (Leiden/Boston: Brill), 133-46.

Taylor, Joan and Gibson, Shimon (2011). ‘Qumran Connected: The Paths and Passes of the North-western Dead Sea,’ in Jörg Frey and Carsten Claussen (eds.), Qumran und Archäologie – wechselseitige Perspektiven (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck), 1-51.

de Vaux, Roland  (1953a)  ‘Fouille au Khirbet Qumrân,’ Revue Biblique 60, 83-106.

-----  (1953b)  ‘Exploration de la Région de Qumrân,’ Revue Biblique 60, 540-561.  

-----  (1954) ‘Fouilles au Khirbet Qumrân.’ Revue Biblique 61, 206-236.

-----  (1956) ‘Fouilles de Khirbet Qumrân,’ Revue Biblique 63, 533-577.

-----  (1959)  ‘Fouilles de Feshkha,’ Revue Biblique 66, 225-255.

----- (1973).  Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls , transl. by David Bourke of L’archéologie et les Manuscrits de la Mer Morte (London: British Academy).


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