The major interest in the Judean caves first began in 1947, following the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in cave #1Q at Qumran by Bedouin shepherds. At the time, political considerations prevented the investigation of the scrolls and their provenance by archaeologists, who always seemed to reach the sites only after they had been plundered by Bedouins.
Cave#10 was excavated in 1949 by the Jordanian Antiquities Authority Department, the French School for Biblical Research and the Palestinian Archaeological Museum. Archaeological excavations began at Khirbet Qumran in 1951 under the direction of Harding and de Vaux. A year later four caves were excavated in Wadi Murabba'at, some 15 km south of Qumran and the Bar Kokba letters were first discovered there.
That same year, Harding, de Vaux, and Reed carried out an archaeological survey in the area around Qumran and the 'Copper Scroll' was discovered in cave #3Q. Shortly afterwards, Bedouins living in the area discovered cave # 4 , which was the most abundant of the Qumran caves and contained the main section of the library of the Judean desert sect. Further caves showing evidence of scrolls were also found but had already been looted.
Caves #7Q to 10Q were discovered in 1955 and the last of the Qumran scroll caves, #Q11 was found in 1956. This find included the 'Temple Scroll'. In late 1959 information was received that papyri were circulating in the Jordanian sector of Jerusalem and the Judean Desert Mission was launched in 1960-61 to make a comprehensive search of the Israeli held area of the desert between Ein Gedi and Masada. This mission was carried out by N.Avigad, Y. Aharoni, P.Bar-Adon and Y. Yadin. In 1963-64 an expediton headed by N.Laff carried out excavations in Wadi Daliyeh, north east of Jericho. They discovered papyri from the late Persian period.
Between 1983 and 1987 Yadin and Patrich systematically surveyed caves in the Judean desert finding that many had been occupied during the revolt against the Romans. They discovered Shimon Bar Giora's cave; one of the leaders of that uprising. The Calcolithic period was represented as was the Neolothic period.
In the mid nineties the Israeli Antiquities Authority led a survey on the Eastern slope of the Judean desert from Jericho in the north to an area south of Masada. Although the caves covered by the ODP project were amongst those discovered, they were not properly excavated and many finds were missed. For example the critical Mikveh at the entrance to cave # 27 was thought to be a pool and the cave was mis-named the 'pool cave'.
Haim Cohen has been surveying the area since 2003 and has been granted a licence by the IAA to excavate caves #27 and #40