Since Cave 1 was discovered in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd looking for his goat the preservation of these scrolls is still ongoing. More than 800 documents were found in 11 caves, copper and papyrus were used as well as the predominant parchment and were written in Aramaic, as well as Hasmonaean, Archaic, and Herodian Hebrew scripts. There were some Phoenician, late Qumranic and Moabite influences too.
Parchment was made using animal skins which meant that a variety of skills, tools and materials would have been needed. Sheep, goats, cows or deer skins were washed and then tanned or treated with alum and powdered chalk, then beaten until soft.
The production of papyrus involved reed, pumice stones and paste. The strips were cross-layered at right angles, beaten and pressed together, the dried sheets were then polished with the pumice and cut to a standard size.
It was a huge amount of work and the treatment process required hammers, mallets, measuring tools, pointed instruments, pens, ink, needles and thread. The material was then cut into strips and sewn together to form a scroll with a handle sheet attached to one end.
Now it was ready for the scribe who would mark the edges of the columns by scoring margins and lines would then be ruled. The size and availability of a parchment dictated the number of columns to a sheet, lines to a column and size of margin.
Inscription was done using a carbon-based dye ink. The standard and style of writing varied considerably. Some scrolls have been amended by a different scribe and the Community Rule scrolls found in Cave 1 were actually written by 2 different people.
Where all this activity took place no-one is sure. It was thought at first that the whole process took place at Qumran but the community there was very small and the writing styles varied greatly. It has been discovered that some of the 1st century scripts actually came from the Jerusalem area and the time line has been determined, as being between 5th century BCE and 2nd century CE.
In order to date the writing styles the palaeographers looked at the appearances of letters; size or stance, base strokes length, roundness or angularity; leg lengths, line faithfulness; ligatures and ornamental ticks. Frank Cross has developed a typology of the Hebrew scripts but even so dating is not exact.
Spelling - the study of which is called orthography - in the scrolls was also an issue as Hebrew does not have proper vowel letters, and, as stated before, varying styles were used. There was no such thing as a dictionary with an official spelling or pronunciation.
The scrolls are still being translated and studied and, as a feat of production, that in itself is amazing. 800 documents over 500-600 years is a fantastic collection and is attributed to the Essenes - but again, that is under debate. The variation in language, style and content is huge and the question of the origin of the scrolls, once confined to the history of the settlement itself - which was only 150 years - now sets a much broader agenda.