* Dead Sea Scrolls and Pottery at Qumran *


Store Jar, really designed to hold a Scroll ?

The Dead Sea Provenience Project concerns the Qumran Pottery found in association with the site and the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The pottery was submitted to neutron activation analysis (NAA) to learn where the pottery was made.

The present Homepage concerns a collaborative project between:

After hundreds of publications concerning the restoration and the textual exegesis of the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls, it seemed to us a logical step to study the Qumran storage jars, the cups, the dishes and other ceramic containers which have been unearthed at the Qumran Complex itself and in its surrounding caves in order to learn:

* W H E R E * all these vessels were manufactured to establish the cultural interactions with peaple near to or remote from Qumran ?

Of course, it will not be easy to receive an answer to the provenience of all the vessels--otherwise one has to analyze every piece of ceramic found. It is, however, hoped that a representative sampling will see to it that one can reach a conclusion which is based on sound statistics.


Sampling one of the Qumran storage jars

As is shown in Gunneweg's Homepage of his branch of work at the Hebrew University (a link to be found at the bottom of this page), it is, today, possible to trace pottery through its chemical composition to the pottery manufacture center where it was made. The NAA technique is based on the assumption that every clay source on Earth has its own chemical composition and pottery made thereof can be recognized and told apart. Once the abundance of each chemical element is known, one can compare each analysis with that of ceramics classified by the archaeologists as 'local' . Kiln wasters (misfired pottery lumps) are site specific. A chemical match between a pottery vessel and a waster means that one has found the place where that pottery was made.

The analytical procedure as well some of the results of this study have been recorded by the Discovery Channel on a Video casette of 52 minutes, entitled: Dead Sea Scrolls, Voices from the Desert by KBYU/Scandinature Films, USA

Also the BBC made a documentary entitled The Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls , by Kick Productions

The second documentary made by the Discovery Channel--a follow-up--will be aired in the beginning of 2001

We have analyzed by NAA about 200 samples of various styles of vessels found at Qumran. For most of the pottery, we have not only obtained a chemical "Fingerprint" but a match with that of a specific site.

We expect to learn:

1. Is there a difference between the pottery found in the Qumran complex and that from the caves?

2. Was all or part of the sampled pottery locally made in Qumran ? This will, for example, hopefully provide an answer to the question whether the people of Qumran--perhaps the Essenes--came with their pottery on them from elsewhere or whether they manufactured their own on the spot in the Qumran Complex.

3. If the jars and other utensils were brought in from Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, Masada, Engedi (or from any other site for which we have NAA data), we will hopefully be able to match the chemical compositions of the analyzed Qumran pottery with those of ancient pottery stored on our data banks.

4. Is it possible to "see" a difference in the pottery manufacture-technology when the analyses would point to different chemical compositions of the vessels. By the means of mineralogical studies, one may then see whether these differences may be explained by potter's practices, such as the addition of temper to the clay or by levigation. (e.g. by Petrography)

5. By analyzing the various styles of pottery found at Qumran and similar ones from other sites, nearby and further away, will we be able to trace the interactions that certainly took place between the Essenes in Qumran and other populations so that the site of Qumran will get its long deserved archaeological link with other sites in the region.

imageimage image image

Storage jars sometimes called "Scroll Jars"

To recapitulate, one has to determine the chemical composition of pottery and the match with others, after which a re-newed stylistical study must be performed to check whether the differences in chemistry also correspond to those in the different stylistic "look" of the vessels so that also the stylistic studies will keep their value in archaeology.


Did this kiln fire all the pottery? Dead Sea on the background

Today, there are highly scientific techniques at our disposal. The Khirbet Qumran material cultural remains can be studied to extract the utmost important information to interpret Qumran archaeologically and historically.

J-B Humbert of the Ecole Biblique of Jerusalem and Jan Gunneweg of the Hebrew University are the co-editors of a Publication of the Archaeology of Qumran. The volume will appear in a joint publication of the Presses Universitaires de Fribourg, Suisse and the ecole biblique of Jerusalem.

The planned volume will be consecrated to the following subjects:
  1. Petrographic results on scroll jars and some aspects of the geology of Qumran, by Jacek Michniewicz Ph.D. (Poznan, Poland)
  2. Qumran Cemetery Anthropology, by Susan Sheridan Ph.D. Notre Dame University (USA)
  3. Carbon-14 Bone tests on a collection of bone found at the Qumran cemetery, by Susan Sheridan Ph.D. and Kaare Rasmussen Ph.D. (Royal Museum Laboratories (Denmark)
  4. X-Ray Diffraction and C14 tests on the plaster of Qumran, by Katharine Galore (Hebrew University)
  5. Controversial methods of Provenience analyses obtained by Thermoluminescence and Magnetic Susceptibility viz-a-viz Neutron Activation, by Jan Gunneweg and Kaare Rasmussen
  6. NAA results on various Common Ware Pottery from the Settlement and the Caves at Qumran, by Jan Gunneweg and Marta Balla Ph.D. of the Nuclear Facility at the Technical University of Budapest, Hungary
  7. A textile analysis of Qumran linen and wool I have send to the Warrington lab in the UK where Dr. M. Pantos will establish the used pigments.
  8. A metallurgical analysis of a metallic conglomerat of Qumran finds by Noel Lacoudre of the Metal Research EDF Laboratories, Paris.

Who wants to help us out in co-funding this interesting project?

As everything else in life, there is a price for every piece of information extracted from scientific research so that mankind may enjoy the roots of its past and learn from that to furnish the private lives of its individuals with a deeper insight into the importance of each one's existence.

The Dorot Foundation provided the funds (6,000 U.S. Dollars) for the pilot study of the first 100 analyses

However, more money will have to be set aside in order to pay for the rest of the analyses and to enlarge this pilot study into full fledged scientific Pottery_Provenience_Project. With some good planning, the running of the samples and the interpretation of the NAA results will take less time than the slow deciphering process of the Scrolls.

In case you want to help, please, send me an e-mail or a letter wherein you express the wish to contribute. Please contact:

Jan Gunneweg's Email

And in case you are curious to know what I do when I am not busy with the Qumran pottery, please, click here for an interesting Archaeological Excursion in Archaeometry, see Archaeom etry Homepage or have a look at our home at Yemin Moshe in Jerusalem

Correspondence address:
Copyright: Jan Gunneweg, Hebrew University, December, 2000