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Monday, November 3, 1997 Published at 07:49 GMT



Sci/Tech

Nasa scientists probe Dead Sea Scrolls

A fragment of a Dead Sea scroll, on the left before analyis and on the right afterwards, revealing previously unseen text

Nasa Scientists are using techniques developed for spaceprobes and fighting crime to examine the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The scrolls are religious texts, written more than 2,000 years ago, which offer insight into the emergence of Christianity and its relationship with Jewish religious tradition. They were found in the 1940s in desert caves in Judea and are among the most important discoveries in modern archaeology.

Now they have been made available to researchers in the hope that modern techniques can piece them together.

Scientists at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are using the same imaging techniques to look at the scroll fragments as they have done to take pictures of the planets from space probes.

Although they say their work is just beginning, they have been able to piece together some fragments made of leather, papyrus and copper and reconstruct some short texts.

They are using a special camera that " images" the scrolls at different wavelengths.

The images are then enhanced using specialised software. Some poor quality fragments have been enhanced considerably.

Professor James Charlesworth, of the Princeton Theological Seminary, described the results as "unbelievable".


[ image: A fragment of the Book of Daniel]
A fragment of the Book of Daniel
BBC science correspondent, David Whitehouse, said: "There are hundreds of dead sea scrolls and more may yet be found. Many are in a poor state of preservation. The new technique is expensive, but if applied to all scrolls it should considerably enhance the information to be gleaned from them."









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Piecing together the Dead Sea Scrolls

Internet Links

Dead Sea Scrolls - Glossary of terms

Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory - Dead Sea Scrolls

Dead Sea Scrolls - Educational site


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