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 
see.

"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 
earthenware jars.

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 
Jewish people.

"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 
the imagers.

"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.
http://edition.cnn.com/2008/TECH/08/27/digital.scrolls/index.html


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