Biblical Archaeology Review 34:5, September/October 2008

Strata: Advances in Technology Provide New Approaches to Scrolls

If you think DNA genetic fingerprinting and super-high-intensity X-rays are changing the face of only hospitals and courtrooms, think again. Scholars and researchers are now using a host of hi-tech methods previously reserved for the medical and biomedical fields to dive deeper into the mysteries of the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls.

A team from Cardiff University in Wales has announced that it will use high-powered X-rays to virtually “unroll” parts of the scrolls that scholars have never been able to open. Using an electron accelerator the size of five football fields, scientists can produce high-intensity X-rays over 100 billion times brighter than standard medical X-rays. When this powerful light is harnessed and focused on ancient books or scrolls too fragile to open, it produces a “shadow” of anything written inside. The researchers hope that by X-raying the Scroll fragments from a number of different angles, they can then produce a composite image of the various letters and words from the sections that have remained hidden from view.

The leader of the scanning project, Professor Tim Weiss, sees the potential for new and incredible discoveries. “There are discoveries to be made in terms of trying to understand the whole picture of the history of the people who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls and why they moved into that area of the Dead Sea,” said Weiss. “Sometimes we don’t know their value because we can’t see inside them, and until we start looking, we don’t know what’s there.”

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