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Sunday, November 2, 1997 Published at 14:52 GMT

Despatches: Europe

PUBLISHED AT 14:52 GMT Sunday, November 2, 1997: DAVID WHITEHOUSE
David Whitehouse
From London

Scientists are using techniques developed for spaceprobes and for fighting crime to investigate the Dead Sea Scrolls - religious texts written 2,000 years ago. The scrolls have been made available to researchers in the hope that modern techinques can piece them together. Here's our Science Correspondent, David Whitehouse.

"The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient religious manuscripts of leather, papyrus and copper, discovered 50 years ago in desert caves and ancient ruins in the wilderness of Judea. They are undoubtedly among the most important discoveries in modern archaeology. They cast new light on the emergence of Christianity and its relationship with Jewish religious traditions. Most of the longer more complete scrolls were published soon after their discovery, but most of the scrolls consist of tiny brittle fragments that scientists wish to piece together. It's only in recent years that those fragments have been made available to researchers. Scientists at NASA's jet propulsion laboratory have used imaging techniques to take pictures of the planets from space probes to look at the scroll fragments and, although they say their work is just beginning, they have been able to piece together some fragments and re-construct some short texts. Other scientists are using DNA fingerprinting techniques to match fragments from leather scrolls. As the scattered pieces of the scrolls are patched together, some of the scrolls secrets are bound to be revealed."

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