Dead Sea Scrolls go from parchment to the Internet
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- More than 2,000 years after they were written, the Dead Sea
Scrolls are going digital as part of an effort to better preserve the ancient
texts and let more people see them than ever before.
The high-tech initiative, announced Wednesday, will also reveal text that was
not visible to the naked eye.
Over the next two years, the Israel Antiquities Authority will digitally
photograph and scan every bit of crumbling parchment and papyrus that makes up
the scrolls, which include the oldest written record of the Bible's Old
Testament. The images eventually will be posted on the Internet for anyone to
"These are the earliest copies of the Bible ever found," said Pnina Shor, head
of treatment and conservation at the Antiquities Authority.
"The Bible is sacred to us and to you and to all the monotheistic religions,
and therefore [the scrolls] are national treasures and world treasures, and
therefore it is our duty to preserve them at least for 2,000 years more."
It is widely believed that the first set of Dead Sea Scrolls was discovered in
1947 by a Bedouin shepherd who ventured into a cave in the Judean Desert in
search of a lost sheep or goat. The texts were found wrapped in linen inside
Eventually, 11 caves were found to contain scrolls, some dating more than 2,000
years. The texts shed light on life in the Holy Land around the time of Jesus,
in the early days of Christianity and at a time of great upheaval for the
"They show the connection between Christianity, Judaism and how everything
evolved from the God -- the God is one God," Shor said. "The scrolls are meant
to bring us all together."
The thousands of scroll fragments were photographed in their entirety only
once, in the 1950s, but some of those images have themselves disintegrated, the
Antiquities Authority said. For years, there have been complaints that only a
handful of scholars have been able to examine the scrolls, The Associated Press
reported. Now, Israel has assembled an international team not of archaeologists
and linguists but technical wizards to reveal them as never before.
Their imaging of the extremely brittle scrolls will allow people to read scores
of fragments that were blackened or erased over the years.
"Just by applying the latest infrared technologies and shooting at very high
detail, lots of resolution, we are already opening up new characters from the
scrolls that are either extremely indistinct or you just couldn't see them
before," said Simon Tanner, director of King's Digital Consultancy Services.
Tanner, who has worked on previous digital projects involving antiquities, is
on a team that also includes Greg Bearman, who recently retired as principal
scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Bearman pioneered
archaeological digital imaging and owns a company, Snapshot Spectra, that makes
"To switch over to digital is really the way to go, and people were resistant
to it initially, because it was a new way of doing stuff," he said. "They want
their light table and their magnifying glass." But with digital imaging,
Bearman said, "You can see where the ink has broken away and you can see the
texture of the animal skin, so you can see more detail than you can see with
the naked eye."
Another benefit of the imaging process, Bearman said, is that it enables
scientists to determine the amount of water present in the parchment.
That will help authorities determine whether the parchment is too wet or too
dry, and enable them to keep the scrolls in conditions that are perfect for
conservation. Americans who want an even closer look at the texts will be able
to do so next month, when six of the scrolls will go on exhibit at the Jewish
Museum of New York, according to The New York Times.
CNN's Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.