NASA Technology Illuminates Dead Sea Scrolls

Scientists are using American space-age technology to bring to light faded script on thousands of fragments of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls.

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Hana Levi Julian,

Examining Dead Sea Scroll fragments
Examining Dead Sea Scroll fragments
Israel News Photo: (Tom Lianza, courtesy of IAA)

Scientists are using American space-age technology to bring to light the faded script on thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest existing record of the Old Testament. Israeli authorities said experts will digitally photograph the scrolls and post them on the internet for the entire world to see.

In the laboratory, before the IR imaging
Tom Lianza, Courtesy of IAA

The Israel Antiquities Authority unveiled the project Wednesday at a news conference in Jerusalem to mark the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the first Dead Sea scrolls. The scrolls were found in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd near the ancient ascetic community of Qumran; some 2,000 years had elapsed from the time the pottery jugs containing the scrolls were placed in cool Judean Desert caves, until their chance rediscovery.



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The technology developed by retired NASA scientist Dr. Greg Bearman, will also be used to monitor the scroll fragments on an ongoing basis for conservation purposes. But even more exciting is the expectation that it will reveal portions of the text that were invisible until now.

High-tech cameras using infrared photography are now being used to uncover sections of the 2,000-year-old scrolls that have faded over the centuries and become indecipherable, the Israeli Antiquities Authority said.

Scroll fragments during the IR imaging process
Tom Lianza, Courtesy of IAA

The project is expected to take about five years and the goal is to make the scrolls accessible to scientists and the general public, Antiquities Authority official Pnina Shor said.

"Now for the first time the scrolls will be a computer click away," said Shor, who heads the authority's department responsible for the conservation of artifacts. "This will ensure that the scrolls are preserved for another 2,000 years."

Working on the scroll fragments in the imaging laboratory
Tom Lianza, Courtesy of IAA

Experts have complained for years that only a small number of scholars have been allowed access to the scrolls and the thousands of fragments that were found in the caves near the Dead Sea. In recent years, steps have been taken to widen access, but many of the findings are still not properly identified and categorized.

The scroll fragments after the IR imaging
Tom Lianza, Courtesy of IAA

Conservators have long been concerned with the scrolls’ preservation and documentation. In 1991 the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), advised by leading experts in the conservation of manuscripts, parchment and papyrus, established a laboratory dedicated solely to the conservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls. 






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