Researchers Unwrap Secrets Of World' Oldest Dead Sea Scroll

Posted: Sep 22 2016, 6:11am CDT | by , Updated: Sep 22 2016, 7:04am CDT , in Latest Science News


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Researchers Read World' Oldest Damaged Biblical Scroll
Completed virtual unwrapping for the En-Gedi scroll. Credit: Brent Seales
  • Researchers Read World' Oldest Damaged Biblical Scroll

Researchers have found out the inner mysteries inscribed on a burnt Jewish scroll for the first time ever with the help of virtual unwrapping.

An ancient Hebrew scroll that got burnt during a fire in the past seems to have been deciphered. It was unreadable yet has become readable thanks to the efforts of eminent scientists. It contains verses from the Book of Leviticus.

A sophisticated process known as virtual unwrapping was used to make the breakthrough. University of Kentucky Professor Brent Seales and his team of scientists from both the United States and Israel participated in the necessary work to decipher the text.

In a study published Sept. 21 in Science Advances, Seales and co-authors describe the process and present their findings. This research paper includes a master image of the virtually unrolled scroll containing 35 lines of text, of which 18 have been preserved and another 17 have been reconstructed.

"This work opens a new window through which we can look back through time by reading materials that were thought lost through damage and decay," said Seales, who is professor and chair of the UK Department of Computer Science.

"There are so many other unique and exciting materials that may yet give up their secrets — we are only beginning to discover what they may hold.

"We are releasing all our data for the scroll from En-Gedi: the scans, our geometric analysis, the final texture. We think that the scholarly community will have interest in the data and the process as well as our results," he said.

The exact age of the scroll remains unknown. It is called the En-Gedi scroll. This scroll probably belongs to the third or fourth century. It was chanced upon in 1970.

A fire that burnt down a synagogue in 600 AD was the most probable place of this scroll. It is an actual scroll. Such treasured artefacts have not been in existence for millennia.

Some even thought that it would be undecipherable. Yet the fact of the matter is that it can be read. A scan of the scroll was taken through a micro-CT scanner. The software pipeline, referred to as "virtual unwrapping." This allowed for the lines written in Hebrew to be deciphered by the scientists.

When the digital edition of the scroll was examined in the lab, it was a moment of excitement for everyone present. Finally, when the deciphered text was found to match a known Biblical text, everyone was elated.

It was quite a discovery. Such covert methods of deciphering texts may hold promise for security and surveillance systems in the near future. If the authorities want to read something secretly without anyone knowing, then they could employ this methodology.

While the exact age of the scroll is a tricky question, the radiocarbon dating shows it to be from around 300 AD. Other methods show it to be an older document.

The Hebrew writing seems to have consonants but there are no vowels in it. Apart from the Dead Sea Scrolls, this document is the only other example of one of the oldest samples from the Pentateuch.

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