Millennia-old Dead Sea Scrolls to go online

Israeli scientists unveiled ambitious plans to take digital photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls with the aim of making the 2,000-year-old biblical documents available on the Internet. The project will take more than two years to complete.


Israeli scientists on Wednesday unveiled a programme to put thousands of fragile fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls online, using infrared imaging to reveal previously illegible portions of the biblical documents.

In order to protect the millennia-old documents only a few of the parchment fragments, which contain the oldest Hebrew record of the Old Testament discovered to date, have ever been put on public display.

"The project will involve the documentation of all of the thousands of Dead Sea Scrolls fragments belonging to about 900 manuscripts, and placing them in an Internet databank that will be available to the public," the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said.

By using infrared and colour imaging scientists believe "scores of scroll fragments that were blackened or ostensibly erased over the years and which were not visible to the naked eye until now" will be able to be read, it added.

The scrolls, some of which are as old as the third century BC, have shed light on the earliest origins of Judaism and Christianity and are considered to be one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time.

The first fragments were discovered in arid caves along the shores of the Dead Sea by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947.

The IAA project involves using spectral imaging and other high-tech methods to improve conservation.

"I believe that by using spectral photography we will succeed, through non-invasive means, to determine the amount of water present in the parchment from which the scrolls are made," said Greg Berman, an imaging expert who recently retired from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory research centre.

"Data such as this has added value for conservation and preservation issues. If, for example, we discover that the parchments are too dry, it will be necessary to modify the conditions in which they are maintained," said Berman, one of several international experts who have worked alongside IAA staff.

The scroll fragments were photographed in their entirety in the 1950s but some of those images have themselves since disintegrated, the IAA said.

The scientists and scholars will this week conclude a pilot project to assess the methods, costs and duration of the programme.

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