Scientists found traces of an ancient technology used to make the Dead Sea Scrolls

The mystery of how the Dead Sea Scrolls remain legible has united theologians and scientists for years. It is now confirmed that our ancestors used hitherto-unknown technology.

Nov 3, 2019 |
3 min read

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Despite being almost 2,000 years old, the Dead Sea Scrolls remain in excellent condition. The first of the texts were found by a shepherd in 1947 a little outside Jerusalem. Containing texts written in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew, the scrolls contain elements of the Hebrew Bible.

As you’d expect for documents of such an age, many of the scrolls are hugely damaged. They have been reproduced in order to be studied. The Temple Scroll, however – which was found in a cave 1956 – is remarkably well-maintained.

This attracts the interest of scientists, who wonder just how such an ancient document could remain in such excellent condition. It’s been damaged by moisture over time, but the 8-meter length of this scroll remains legible to the naked eye.

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The question is, how? New evidence suggests our ancient ancestors had access to more advanced technology than we believe.

How were the Dead Sea Scrolls written?

Typically, a scroll would be crafted from animal flesh. The animal would be skinned, with all traces of fat and fur removed. The skin would then be left to dry in the sun, often stretched, and rubbed with salt. Ink could then be applied to the organic scroll.

The territory that a scroll was created within can usually be defined by its color. Scrolls created in the east typically boast a brown, tan shade. Those from the west generally are a paler white.

Under careful consideration, it has been discovered that the Temple Scroll does not meet these criteria. The material used to make the scroll is not untampered animal skin. Besides, the ink appears somewhat raised, as though not applied directly to animal flesh. Naturally, this has piqued the curiosity of experts.

An inch of the master scroll was cut off and investigated, using a range of 21st-century tools and technology. The sample was scanned and inspected in minute detail, picking up anything and everything to do with the manufacturing technique. The results suggested that everything we know about the Dead Sea Scrolls is incorrect.

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A chemical compound containing calcium, sodium, and sulfur was found on the surface of the scroll. This explains why the text appeared not to be written directly on the animal skin. This provided a protective coat for the scroll, applied before the text. This is presumably why the scroll remains legible to this day.

Photo by Science Advances

This could also explain the coloring of the scroll. The Temple Scroll is considerably lighter than most eastern scrolls, especially those of this ancient era.

This newly discovered technique raises further questions. It appears that the Dead Sea Scrolls were not created using traditional eastern or western techniques. What’s more, salt traces were found on the scroll – but the salt in question is not found in the Dead Sea. This suggests that the Temple Scroll could have been written elsewhere.

These are questions that merit further investigation. Additional research into the scroll has been promised, as religious scholars and science enthusiasts both search for a satisfying explanation.

Why are these scrolls so important?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a pivotal element of the Jewish faith. They contain some of the earliest recorded religious writings, combining to compile the books of the Hebrew Old Testament. While they do not contain any text that is unavailable elsewhere, the scrolls remain a treasured element of spiritual history.

The most significant fascination surrounding the scrolls is the fact that they have remained in such excellent condition. The manuscripts for hidden for centuries, and yet remain legible.

This reassures religious academics that Old Testament translations have not lost their impact of meaning through the years. In the eyes of strict followers of Judaism, this ensures that the word of God has not been diluted or excessively paraphrased over time.

If you want to see the scrolls for yourself, get yourself to Washington DC. The Museum of the Bible is home to seventeen fragments of the scrolls – though five have since been announced as suspected forgeries. For a more authentic experience, you’ll need to visit Jerusalem. The Shrine of the Book is host to the world’s largest collection of Dead Sea Scrolls fragments.

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