During August–September 2002, an excavation was conducted on the southern plateau of Kh. Qumran (map ref. NIG 24359/62845; OIG 19359/12845). The excavation, on behalf of Trinity Southwest University in New Mexico and the ‘Amuta for Geophysical, Archaeological and Religious Roots, was directed by R. Price, with the participation of O. Gutfeld (assistant director) and Y. Kalman (area supervison), G. Collett (administration), J. Higgins (surveying and geological analysis), D. Pieper (drafting), J. Swan and B. Bishop (construction supervision), R. Price and G. Laron (photography), and S. Ashkenazi (pottery restoration). Valuable assistance was provided by O. Gutfeld of the Institute of Archaeology, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Y. Tzionit of the Staff Archaeological Officer for Judea and Samaria, Z. Tzuk and N. Tzameret of the National Parks and Nature Reservations Authority and members of Qibbuz Qalya.
Two squares were opened on the southern Qumran plateau, south of the 1994 Operation Scroll excavations in this area and north of the 1996 excavation by Y. Magen on the western edge of the plateau. The excavation was based on GPR and seismic surveys conducted by the Tel-Aviv Department of Geophysics in 1990 and by J. Strange in 1996. The western square on the western edge of the southern plateau was isolated for examination of the seismic data, while the eastern square was reserved for the investigation of the GPR data.
The Western Square was on a direct line with Cave IV on the opposite, facing plateau. A probe drilled in 1996 meant to locate and identify subsurface anomalies discerned on the seismic survey at a depth of 16 m, which is the approximate elevation of the entrance to Cave IV. The probe produced a drop in pressure at the seismic target depths, suggesting a subsurface paleo-chamber. Our initial excavation from surface to a depth of 1.5 m revealed sparse potsherds and a single jar handle in topsoil, a shaped stone, probably a grinding stone, in a pebble fill just below topsoil, isolated bitumen deposits that might have been used as fossil fuel and several bone fragments in a sandy layer below the pebble fill. Below the 1.5 m level no other material remains were found and the manual excavation continued down to the 16 m level and below, including two side tunnels to the south and east (length c. 3 m) at the 17 m level. Geophysical features were recorded in profile. Concentrated lines of natural stones that intruded between the marl layers at and below target levels were determined to be the source of the seismic anomalies. It may now be proposed that the drop in pressure during the probe resulted from air in the surface pumps that became trapped in a sandy layer at the target depths. This data will be helpful for future seismic surveys of the Qumran area with reference to subsurface anomalies.
The Eastern Square was located at a slightly lower elevation than the western square; it was excavated to a depth of 1.2 m, which was the level of a beaten-earth floor. Two standing store jars, c. 2 m apart, were uncovered together in situ, in a sand layer that overlaid the beaten-earth floor. The first store jar was chalk colored and contained a large number (78) of medium-sized pebbles and wadi stones, as well as the rim and handles of another store jar. Its own rim and handles were missing. The second store jar was reddish and thin-walled without a rim, but with intact handles and body. Reeling marks were evident inside the store jar, which was filled only with the surrounding sand layer. However, the desiccated condition of the jar prevented its removal from the matrix. A tabun constructed from fieldstones was found on the beaten-earth floor in the northeastern corner of the square, aligned east–west with the store jars. The tabun contained ash deposits, a piece of worked stone and one small bird bone. Several isolated round stones near the tabun showed wear that is associated with intense heat; they were probably used in connection with the cooking installation.
Extending the northern end of the square one half meter exposed the remains of four large cooking pots filled with an accumulation of ash and sheep bone fragments in the southwestern balk, several cm below topsoil. Of the four cooking pots, one was complete, another was nearly complete and the two others had rims, handles and body fragments. One of the cooking pots that had an intact bottom and about one-fourth of its body contained a large amount of ash and bone fragments. The position of the vessels just below topsoil implied an intentional burial, postdating the tabun and store jars above the beaten-earth floor. De Vaux's excavations yielded copious examples of similarly filled cooking pots, which were identified as ritual vessels. M. Allegro had suggested identifying the vessels with a reference in the Copper Scroll to 'vessels of blood'. Extending the square another half meter in the northern direction revealed a collapsed store jar in a rocky layer just below topsoil in the western balk, as well as rims, handles, and body fragments of several other chalk-colored jars in the sand layers of the northern balk, and the base of a small bowl and a grinding stone in the northeastern balk. Following the clearance of the beaten-earth floor, a probe (1.5 × 1.5 m) was opened in the southeastern section of the square, to a depth of 2 m. No material remains were discovered below the 1.2 m depth of the beaten-earth floor and the stone intrusions in the layers, indicated in the subsurface radar, proved to be entirely geologic.
Analysis of the pottery from the eastern square, particularly the cooking pots, in comparison with de-Vaux's pottery index, established a date in the Qumran II settlement period (31 BCE–68 CE), although cooking pots published by Bar-Natan from Netzer's Jericho excavations and labeled HS1 were dated to 100–95/85 BCE. This evidence of habitation on the Qumran plateau is consistent with the discovery of nearby stone-lined pits during Operation Scroll (1994) that were oriented north–south and located some 3–4 m to the north of our eastern square. The four cooking pots that were apparently buried in a ritual fashion correspond to earlier such discoveries and establish a connection between the priestly activities of the Qumran community and the southern plateau that lies within its boundaries. It may be conjectured that the cooking installation in the eastern square, which incorporated the stone-lined pits of Operation Scroll, was part of a larger complex that occupied the eastern side of the southern plateau. The site may have been abandoned due to flood waters from the west that entered the structure. Evidence for such a flood appears in the washed-out section of the eastern wall of the settlement, to the south and below our eastern square.