August 28, 2008

Dead Sea Scrolls Go Digital

The Dead Sea scrolls could be as close as a click away, thanks to researchers who are making the 2,000-year-old documents available to the public and researchers on the Internet.

The keeper of the scrolls, the Israel Antiquities Authority, wants to shed light on the life of Jews and early Christians at the time of Jesus.

They said Wednesday it would take more than two years to finish the massive project.

Bedouin shepherds discovered the scrolls in caves near the Dead Sea in 1947.

At the time, only a small number of scholars were allowed to see the fragments.

Recently access has been widened and seven years ago they were published as a whole.

Scientists in Israel are using powerful cameras and lights that emit no damaging heat or ultraviolet beams to decipher sections and letters in the scrolls invisible to the naked eye.

The mostly parchment scrolls are the oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible. They include secular text dating from the third century BC to the first century AD.

Specialists have taken 4,000 pictures of some 9,000 fragments that make up the scrolls, which number 900 in total.

Some big pieces of scroll are on permanent display at the Israel Museum.

"We are able to see the scrolls in such detail that no one has before," said Simon Tanner, a digital expert from King's College London, who is in charge of data collection.

Scientists believe advanced imaging technology will also help them better preserve the scrolls by finding deterioration caused by humidity and heat.

Image Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority


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