3-D Computer Model Sheds Light on
Dead Sea Scrolls Site
Helps answer questions about
Essenes community at Qumran
June 19 /Standard Newswire/ -- The mysterious archaeological ruins
located paces from where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered 60
years ago served first as a fortress before being adopted by a
Jewish religious sect, two UCLA researchers contend.
established originally as a fortress, just as the archaeological
evidence shows, and then it was abandoned," said Robert R. Cargill,
a UCLA graduate student in Near Eastern Culture and Languages. "It
was later resettled by the Essenes, an early Jewish religious
community that came from Jerusalem, bringing with them the scrolls
and continuing to copy and compose new scrolls."
collaborator William M. Schniedewind, chair of the UCLA Department
of Near Eastern Cultures and Languages, arrived at the conclusion
while building the world's first three-dimensional computer model of
the site, which has been the subject of debate since a Bedouin
shepherd discovered the first scrolls in a cave above Qumran in
"Once you put
all the archaeological evidence into three dimensions, the solution
literally jumps out at you," said Schniedewind, the project's
hope their Qumran Visualization Project, slated to go on view June
29 at the San Diego Natural History Museum as part of the largest
public exhibition of the scrolls ever mounted, will resolve the
conflict surrounding the history and evolution of the West Bank
scholars have clashed over whether Qumran served exclusively as a
monastery for the scholarly and pacifist Essenes; a fortress for the
mighty Hasmoneans, whose victory against ancient Greek occupiers is
celebrated during Hanukkah; or a rich Jerusalem family's villa that
was later adapted by the Essenes as a Jewish communal compound.
judiciousness of Solomon, Cargill and Schniedewind cut the three
competing theories down the middle, contending that none of them
hold together without elements from the others.
"We felt it
was of the utmost important to allow the archaeological remains to
speak for themselves," said Schniedewind. "So we decided to follow
the evidence in modeling the site, no matter where it would lead. In
attempting to reconstruct many of the suggestions made by scholars
over the years, we found that many were simply not possible
architecturally. But when half of the elements were taken from each
of the competing theories and added to each other, the most
plausible - and buildable - explanation emerged."
Schniedewind contend that the original 20,150-square-foot, two-story
structure, which has a four-story tower and surrounds a
3,229-square-foot courtyard, could not have been built originally as
the home of a sectarian religious community, as Roland de Vaux, a
French Dominican priest who led the original excavation of the site,
held. De Vaux maintained that the original occupants, who refer to
themselves in the scrolls as the "Yahad," were the Essenes.
Central to de
Vaux's theory is the existence of a communal dining hall, which was
vividly described in the scrolls. While early excavations indeed
discovered enough pottery to feed a religious community, the dining
room was not part of the original structure, the UCLA researchers
"Once we put
the dining hall into the model, we realized it had to be an
addition," Cargill said. "It only fits to the south of the original
When the site
served as a fortress, housing fewer people than the Jewish religious
settlement, residents would have eaten elsewhere, possibly in a
central courtyard where ovens have been excavated, the UCLA team
1,120-square-foot, two-story scriptorium - or large work room for
producing scrolls - has long been thought to be central to the
religious community, but the position of the room and thickness of
the walls are more consistent with an addition than an original
feature of the structure, the UCLA team found.
But if Qumran
does not appear to have been originally designed for communal life,
its evolution is not consistent with use exclusively as a fortress
either, say the UCLA researchers. In an influential 1996 article
about Qumran, University of Chicago professor Norman Golb argued
that the site, occupied from about 163 B.C. to A.D. 73, was always a
features of the structure, such as a defensive four-story tower on
one side and protective precipices on two opposing sides, would be
expected of a fortress, the array of outbuildings and additions
reflect a more pastoral, contemplative life, the UCLA team found.
For instance, the researchers have been able to bring to life a vast
water system that flowed through the site, filling 10 ritual baths,
separating clay for pottery production, and sustaining residents,
livestock and crops. Moreover, only a low wall appears to have
protected agricultural portions of the compound's northwest side -
not the heavy fortification that would be expected of a fortress.
model shows that the nature of the expanded areas, specifically
those in the northwest annex and within an inner courtyard, was of a
communal, non-military nature," said Schniedewind, who participated
in an archaeological dig at Qumran over a decade ago.
Schniedewind credit French archaeologist Jean-Baptiste Humbert with
first suggesting the hybrid approach that inspires their own
"synthetic" theory. Humbert contended in a 2002 book that Qumran was
first built as a home, possibly a vacation home, for a wealthy
Jerusalem family before being abandoned and reoccupied in the late
first century B.C. Like Cargill and Schniedewind, Humbert has
contended that the site's eventual occupants were the Essenes.
interpretation was a crucial step in the right direction," Cargill
said. "But the shared rooms - the dining room, the scriptorium, the
pottery works - appear to have been built for a community of people.
This isn't just for one wealthy family out in the desert. This is an
entire community center [whose residents] sustained themselves
making pottery and may have even fed themselves from their own
scholars before them, Cargill and Schniedewind believe the Essenes,
who practiced communal ownership, brought all of their possessions
to the site, including about 70 percent of the scrolls discovered in
the area. They believe that the Essenes are the Yahad group
described in the remaining 30 percent of the recovered scrolls, and
that they are the authors of those texts, composed at Qumran, which
describe communal life in the Judean desert. The UCLA team theorizes
that the Essenes may have anticipated an attack from Roman soldiers
when they packed the scrolls in earthenware jars and hid them in
caves in the hills above Qumran.
Visualization Project will be on view at the San Diego Natural
History Museum through January 2008 as part of "Dead Sea Scrolls,"
the largest, longest and most comprehensive exhibit of its kind in
any country. In all, 27 scrolls will be on view, 10 of which have
never been publicly displayed. To this day, the Dead Sea Scrolls
contain the oldest known manuscript of the Old Testament ever found.
model was built over the course of 15 months using MultiGen Creator,
a powerful modeling tool known for producing fully interactive
real-time models. Photographs of wood grains, plasters and soil at
Qumran and other similar sites throughout the Middle East provide
the model's texture. The model includes virtual recreations of oil
lights, ink wells, pottery and other actual artifacts discovered
A series of
high-resolution panoramic photographs of the sky, the cliffs to the
west of the site, the Dead Sea and the plains of Jordan to the east
were grafted together in Photoshop to illustrate Qumran's
surroundings. The project's architects eventually plan to replace
the panoramic photography with satellite imagery, which will allow
them to virtually simulate the surrounding topography and terrain.
Plans also call for virtual models of the caves where the scrolls