This camera system, developed by NASA engineers, images damaged Dead Sea Scroll fragments in 12 different wavelengths of light—bringing the writing back to life.
Scientists Use NASA Tech to Decode Damaged Scrolls
Published: November 11, 2019
Onscreen: The Dead Sea Scrolls contain the earliest versions of the Hebrew Bible. Most scrolls are stored in a safe environment, where scientists work to repair past damage. But one of the most recent discoveries was revealed when scientists used modern technology to photograph the charred remains.
Narrator: This camera system, designed by NASA engineers, images each fragment in 12 wavelengths, including infrared, a region of the spectrum invisible to the naked eye.
Pnina Shor: We also do 28 exposures, each from a different angle. And so you get all the surface of the scrolls, both for preservation measures and for scholarship.
Narrator: The multispectral imaging system does more than just provide a photographic archive, as Pnina demonstrates with this scroll from the Book of Psalms.
Shor: The jar was probably sitting on the floor of the cave and humidity penetrated. And so, slowly and slowly, the humidity also affected the edges of this scroll, and a few lines and the edges became gelatinized. It looks like burnt, but it’s not, it’s gelatin. And therefore, they become completely illegible.
Now, with our new imaging system, all of the writing comes back to life.
There has been quite a few new readings, because of these new images.
Narrator: Including fragments from a mysterious sectarian text scholars are working to assemble that promises a “mystery revealed” to one who “seeks understanding.” Other fragments include a long-lost solar calendar, likely used by the Essenes.
Onscreen: Essenes were Jewish sectarian scripts whose writings seem to anticipate beliefs of early Christianity.
Dead Sea Scroll Detectives
Produced and Directed by: Peter Yost
Digital Production: Ahmin Thornhill
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2019