Google plans to offer Dead Sea Scrolls online

Antiquities Authority announces partnership with internet giant worth $3.5m; digital imaging technology will give researchers unique view.

October 20, 2010 05:06
2 minute read.
Glass plate holding Dead Sea Scroll

daed sea scrolls scientific research 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)


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The Israel Antiquities Authority announced a unique partnership with Google’s Israeli Research and Design Center on Tuesday in Jerusalem, which will enable the IAA to digitalize the entire Dead Sea Scrolls collection and make them available to the public online.

The $3.5m. project will enable the IAA to use digital imaging technology that processes each piece with different wavelengths, giving researchers a unique view of the separate layers of each parchment and bringing to light sections of the fragments that have faded with time.

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“This is the ultimate image you can get of any scroll,” said Pnina Shor, project head of the Dead Sea Scrolls research. “This is like an authentic copy of the scroll. There will be no need to expose the scrolls anymore. Anyone will be able to click and see any scroll fragment.”

Shor explained that the infrared imaging will allow the researchers to see parts of the fragments that have turned black with age, meaning the digital view will actually be superior to the scroll itself.

The technology captures an image of a fragment using six separate wavelengths, and combines all six wavelengths together to get a color image that can be magnified dozens of times and still remain clear.

IAA hopes to start using the technology in two to three months, after which they will partner with Google-Israel to upload the images to the Internet.

Google will also help design a way to present the information that will include transcription, translations, and bibliographies.

The first images will be available to the public in the spring of 2011, though it will take a long time for the IAA to scan the 30,000 fragments that make up 900 separate manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

All of the scrolls were found in 11 caves at Qumran in the Judean Desert in the mid-20th century.

“This project will enrich and preserve an important and meaningful part of world heritage by making it accessible to all on the Internet,” said Yossi Matias, the director of Google-Israel R&D center.

He called the partnership a “historic effort” and noted that Google will be able to use its resources to offer rough translations as well as connect scholars and scientists to contribute their own technology to the project.

“This is both about heritage and also about art,” said Matias. “It’s not just looking at the material itself but understanding it better.”

The accessibility to the public is one of the most exciting aspects for IAA. Shor compared the future digital collection to “the ultimate puzzle.”

“Online, you can start rearranging the fragments, and come up with new interpretations,” she said.

The approximately 300 scholars from around the world who specialize in the Dead Sea Scrolls usually only get to study the scrolls on their annual pilgrimage to Israel. Now, they will have the liberty of studying the scrolls in-depth from their home countries.

The announcement was part of a 20th anniversary celebration for the IAA.

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