[The following is an excerpt from an abstract of Dr. Hirshfeld's lecture, "Recent Discoveries in the Archaeology of Qumran," in the Greenfield Seminar Series on March 19, 1998]
The part of Qumran which is most similar to the other sites is the main building. The dominant feature of the main building is the tower in the northwestern corner of the courtyard. The main building was probably the pars urbana, that is, the living quarters of the site. The surrounding wings were the pars rustica, the industrial area of the site. The water supply system of Qumran was capable of collecting 1,127 cubic m of water. This is a considerable amount of water, but not unusual in comparison to the quantities that were collected at other desert fortresses in the region. The number of ritual baths is not exceptional relative to the number discovered at other sites in Judaea.
The site of Qumran does not appear to have been a center for the people living in the nearby caves. A systematic survey of the caves has demonstrated that they were used for hiding objects, not for permanent inhabitation. On the other hand, the site does not appear to be a fortress either. The tower surrounded by a glacis made the site defensible, but the living quarters, featuring several entrances and irregular construction, were characteristic of a civilian complex. The industrial installations and the nearby tracts of work land prove that the principal occupation of the inhabitants was agriculture and agricultural processing. The integration of these elements--the tower, living quarters and installations--indicates that Qumran functioned as a fortified manor house.