Digital photos shed new
light on Dead Sea Scrolls
___By Margie Wylie
___Religion News Service
___ROCHESTER, N.Y. (RNS) --Inscribed near the time of Jesus, stored in caves for two millennia and uncovered in 1947, a wrinkled scrap of leather stored in Teaneck, N.J., hid the key to an ancient psalm.
___The Dead Sea Scrolls fragment was almost more holy relic than historical artifact before archaeologist Robert Johnston and his fellow researchers came along. Using a
digital camera and computer-driven analysis, Johnston's team did what is becoming increasingly commonplace--they made the ancient document speak.
|BY USING DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHS that separate out different spectrums of light, researchers studying the Dead Sea Scrolls have uncovered new lines of text once hidden from the human eye. The photo at left shows an original image, while the photo at right shows a digital image revealing new text at the bottom right. (RNS photo)
___Out of a blackened patch emerged several lines, among them: "Blessed is the Lord who causes us to rejoice, for that is why you created us."
___"The characters popped right out; to be able to see writing that had not been seen for over 2,000 years was very exciting," said John Peter Meno of St. Mark's Cathedral in Teaneck. Meno is general secretary of the Eastern United States archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church, which owns the fragment.
___The find eventually yielded what is being called a harvest hymn, a never-before-seen Jewish psalm.
___Johnston and his colleagues have been pioneering ways to use imaging technologies once reserved for spies and astronomers to mine the secrets of ancient texts blackened or faded by time.
___The team, sponsored by Eastman Kodak and Xerox, has been experimenting with multispectral imaging at the Rochester Institute of Technology's Chester Carlson Center for Imaging Sciences, of which Johnston is dean.
___The imaging techniques were developed to enable spy satellites to identify, for example, an army tank hidden by fog or a jungle canopy. In the case of ancient texts, it helps researchers differentiate between ink and background by detecting minute differences in the light waves they reflect.
___Light visible to the naked eye has wavelengths in the range of 400 to 700 nanometers, or billionths of a meter. Using a digital camera sensitive to light ranging from 200 nanometers (ultraviolet) to 1,100 nanometers (infrared), the researchers photograph documents in light of several differentwavelengths until they find the ones that offer the most detail. Ink may reflect light at, say, 900 nanometers, while the blackened leather in the background might reflect at 910 nanometers. A computer, analyzing the differences, can identify hidden characters.
___Typically, Johnston's team extracts only tiny, though crucial, nuggets. Looking at a rare red-ink scroll of the Old Testament Book of Samuel yielded only one previously unknown character.
___Among the thoroughly mined texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, they found only 18 new characters in their examination of color photos of the Temple Scroll--which at 28 feet is the longest mostly intact scroll.
___The Dead Sea Scrolls were written in the Semitic language of Aramaic between 68 B.C. and A.D. 250 and hidden in caves near Qumran, which some scholars think was an ancient Jewish settlement. The writings shed light on aspects of early Jewish religious and secular life during the era when Romans sacked Jerusalem, around A.D. 70, and as Christianity was dawning.
___"These things are so fragile, they can just crumble at a touch," Meno said. "The amazing thing about this technology is it allows us to literally see through it to other layers of writing without ever touching these very fragile artifacts."
Contents/ Masthead / Why We're Here / Links / Archive / E-mail us/ SUBSCRIBE!