Qumran Sundial

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Qumran Sundial or the Qumran Roundel was discovered, in 1997, in the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found some 40 years earlier. The original is housed at the Israel Museum and an enlarged replica has been installed at the Qumran site.


The identification of the object as a sundial was based on a publication of the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, where most of the intact Dead Sea Scrolls are kept. This supposed sun dial was found at the same time as the ancient scrolls and at first archaeologists thought it was a simply a stone disc. It was locked away in a vault until recently being rediscovered where it was found to be a sun dial. Although previus time-keeping methods and charts were found at the Qumran site, the discovery of this small sundial provides further evidence of the Qumran interest in the measurement of time.

Structural Details

circa 100 BCE

At the bottom of the dial, in the part that remains hidden when it stands on a flat surface, the form of the Hebrew letter ‘ayin can be seen (inspect), measuring about 1x1 cm. The letter stands close to the center of the disk. No explanation for this find has yet been suggested.

circa 100 BCE

The circular object with rings and marks was manufactured out of limestone in the shape of a flat basin with a low rim, and only 14.5 cm (about six inches) in diameter. A depression in the centre was obviously intended to hold a short upright stick, the gnomon, whose shadow fell at the different places according to the season and hour. "This is a reconstruction of the sun dial with the gnomon, and you see this was the way it functioned, and this one is very uncommon. In Israel there were discovered nearly 18 sun dials, but this is very unique."

circa 100 BCE

The existence of such devices for measuring the equinoxes and solstices by shadows in attested in ancient sources. The series of rings was made by cutting out grooves. After the central ring holding the gnomon, three further rings were made, the middle one broader than the other two. Oth the boad ring there is an indicator mark in the shape of a small barred circle. Since the gnomon worked by shadows, it is clear enough that the three different rings originally indicated the season, as shown by the noon shadow. The sun, from the south (in the northern hemisphere), threw the shadow of the gnomon on the north at noon, at different lengths according to the season.

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