Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Online

imageThe Dead Sea Scrolls will once again be revealed. Two thousand years ago hundreds of scrolls, which include the oldest written record of the Old Testament ever found, were buried in the caves of the Judean Desert. Now, sixty years after the fortuitous discovery of the first scrolls by Bedouin shepherds, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), custodian of the Scrolls, has decided to provide researchers and the public unlimited worldwide access to them.

In a press conference that took place this morning in Jerusalem (August 27), the IAA presented a pilot program that is being conducted this week, involving the imaging of the Dead Sea Scrolls, using the latest in digital cameras. The project will involve the documentation of all of the thousands of Dead Sea Scrolls fragments belonging to about 900 manuscripts, and placing them in an internet data bank that will be available to the public. This will be accomplished by imaging the scrolls in color and infrared which allow, among other things, the reading of scores of scroll fragments that were blackened or ostensibly erased over the years and which were not visible to the naked eye until now.

imageThe pilot project is examining the means that were selected for imaging and storing the information, and is also estimating the amount of time and resources necessary for implementing a project such as this.

Participating in the pilot project together with the IAA staff are international experts in the fields of imaging technologies and the management of large image databases, amongst them Dr. Greg Bearman recently retired as Principal Scientist from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA, Simon Tanner, Director, King’s Digital Consultancy Services, Dr Julia Craig-Mc-Feely, a manuscript expert photographer, and Tom Lianza, Director of Motion Picture and Television Technologies, X-rite Incorporated. Dr. Bearman has previously worked with the IAA and other national libraries on imaging of ancient texts, his group pioneered the application of modern digital electronic and spectral imaging to archeological artifacts. Simon Tanner has worked with some of the rarest artifacts around the world and helped numerous digital projects to succeed in delivering public and scholarly access to their treasures. Dr Craig-McFeely is Director of the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music and is internationally renowned for her excellence in the digital photography of manuscript materials. Tom Lianza has extensive experience in color and imaging. He is one of the early pioneers in the field of Color Management and developed some of the earliest digital flatbed color scanners.

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As part of the pilot program the experts set up three separate imaging stations in a sealed and specially painted gray room:

According to Pnina Shor, Head of the Department for the Treatment and Conservation of Artifacts, “In addition to acquiring the test images, which will be used to analyze and evaluate the quality control of the conservation, we are focusing on a workflow that will minimize as much as possible the exposure of the scrolls to light and will aid in determining the time and manpower needed for the complete imaging of all of the thousands of scroll fragments. The innovative technology will make it possible for the first time to scientifically measure changes in the state of the scrolls’ preservation. The spectral imaging will graphically record the condition of a scroll fragment and in several months we will photograph it again under identical conditions at which time we will ascertain if any changes at all have occurred in the graph. The fewer the changes that are discovered the better we will know that the scrolls are in an optimum state of preservation”.


Greg Bearman, a former senior scientist with NASA, put forth an innovative idea at the press conference, “I believe that by using spectral photography we will succeed, through non-invasive means, to determine the amount of water present in the parchment from which the scrolls are made. Data such as this has added value for conserv

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