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Sunday, 31 August 2008 19:23

Digital pixs of Dead Sea Scrolls headed to Internet via NASA

Israeli scientists are preparing to digitally photograph thousands of fragments of the approximate one thousand separate documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls so they will be viewable on the Internet to the general public and available for scientific and religious study.

On August 27, 2008, the Israeli internet news agency YNET announced that the project to digitize the Scrolls had begun by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) under the advisement of experts at the King’s College London and with sophisticated imaging equipment provided by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known version of the Hebrew Bible, are believed to have been compiled about two thousand years ago. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, they contain all of the books of the Old Testament, along with other religious materials written before and after the time of Jesus. The Scrolls are written on parchment or papyrus.

High-technology digital cameras will use infrared imagery to photograph all of the Dead Sea Scroll. Many of the Scrolls will also be imaged with a special multi-spectral imaging camera.

The sophisticated technique will allow many sections of the 2,000-year-old scrolls to be identified after over sixty years of being unable to be deciphered by earlier, less-sophisticated technologies.

In 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd by the name of Mohammed Ahmed el-Hamed (nicknamed edh-Dhib, translated as "the wolf") is generally accepted to have been the first person to discover them when he found some of them buried in a Wadi Qumran cave near the ruins of an ancient settlement of Khirbet Oumran in the West Bank.

Over the next 32 years, the current collection of Scrolls was uncovered in eleven caves about one mile (1.6 kilometer) inland from the northwest shore of the Dead Sea.

Additional information on the preservation project continues on page two.

The Scrolls are of important religious and historical significance because they include almost the only known copies of Biblical documents produced before the second century A.D.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) is in charge of the project that is expected to take about five years to complete at a cost of millions of U.S. dollars.

Pnina Shor, who is in charge of the IAA artifacts treatment and conservation department that is responsible for the conservation effort, states, “Now for the first time the scrolls will be a computer click away. This will ensure that the scrolls are preserved for another 2,000 years." [Associated Press: “Dead Sea Scrolls to be displayed on Internet”]

Currently, only four curators are allowed to handle the Scrolls, and only a handful of scholars have been allowed to analyze them. They are kept in a carefully monitored vault within a small climate-controlled, light-controlled laboratory.

A pilot project is underway that will determine how long it will take to digitize the 15,000 to 20,000 fragmented pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The imaging equipment to be used on the project comes from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, U.S.A.

Greg Bearman, formerly with JPL, gained permission to use the equipment from NASA. He states, "I am an archaeology buff. This equipment is used to study planets. NASA uses the technology for imaging in space, and it works here." [AP]

The project leaders hope to eventually provide the Dead Sea Scrolls on the Internet, along with translations, transcriptions, scholarly interpretations, and bibliographies.

Shor states, "The aim is that you can go online and call up the scrolls with the best possible resolution and all the information that exists about them today.” [The Guardian: “From papyrus to the web: photographs of Dead Sea Scrolls to go online”]

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