Still concealing their secrets, the ruins of Qumran perch on the edge of a marl terrace at the base of high limestone cliffs, located 13 miles east of Jerusalem and 1 mile west of the Dead Sea (visible on the horizon). The Dead Sea Scrolls—Biblical, sectarian and other texts from the mid-third century B.C.E. to the first century C.E.—were found in caves in the limestone cliffs and in other caves carved out of the soft marl.
While some of the puzzles of the scrolls are being slowly unraveled, the secrets of the settlement remain unsolved. Do the unadorned stones and utilitarian blueprint of the settlement indicate that it was a religious settlement? Is the imposing tower near the center of the settlement a sign that Qumran was a military fortress? And what exactly is the connection between the settlement and the caves in the marl terrace (visible on the right side of this photo)? These and many other enigmas are the subject of the accompanying roundtable discussion, which features leading Qumran archaeologists.