The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient manuscripts of biblical and extra-biblical texts. These manuscripts were written between the 3rd century BC and 1st century AD, and were found in various caves around the Dead Sea. Their discovery has significantly impacted the way we study and interpret the Old Testament today, since they pre-date the medieval Old Testament manuscripts.
What was Found
Primarily scroll fragments were found. According to scholars, these fragments are a part of between 825 and 870 different individual scrolls. These fragments are written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Nabataean-Aramaic, and are divided into biblical texts and extra-biblical texts—writings in the Old Testament and writings outside the Old Testament.
The biblical texts include fragments of each book in the Old Testament aside from the book of Esther. These fragments are the oldest known pieces of the Old Testament books. In addition to the fragments, complete scrolls were found: 25 copies of Deuteronomy, 19 copies of Isaiah, and 30 copies of the Psalms.
The extra-biblical texts make up the majority of the fragments. These writings are exegetical, historical, poetic, calendrical, parabolic, legal, and more. Two noteworthy scrolls are the Temple Scroll and the Copper Scroll. The Temple Scroll is the longest, and the Copper Scroll is a list of 64 underground locations throughout Israel that were to contain gold, silver, aromatics, and manuscripts, probably from the Temple.
For a digital library of the Dead Sea Scrolls see here.
Where, When, and How They Were Found
The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in eleven different caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. These caves are known as the Qumran Caves, and are located 1300 feet below sea level. The scrolls are numbered according to the cave number they were found in.
The scrolls in cave 1 were first discovered in 1946 by a Bedouin shepherd who was looking for a lost sheep. The search for new caves and scrolls continued until 1956, when all 11 caves were found.
The majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls are on display in Jerusalem at The Shrine of the Book, a part of the Israel Museum. The Shrine of the Book is a unique structure specifically designed for the scrolls preservation—it is kept at a specific humidity level and temperature. Some of the scrolls (including the Copper Scroll) are also on display in a museum in Amman, Jordan.