‘Virtual’ Dead Sea Scrolls: 1.2m. online views in 10 days

Partnership with Google brings high-resolution images of fragile antiquities to viewers from 213 countries.

Dead Sea Scrolls 311 (photo credit: Courtesy Israel Museum)
Dead Sea Scrolls 311
(photo credit: Courtesy Israel Museum)
For nearly 2,000 years, the Dead Sea Scrolls stayed hidden from view in ceramic vessels deep in the Qumran caves before being brought out to the public for display at the Israel Museum in 1965.
Ten days ago, Google and the Israel Museum launched a website where they uploaded high-resolution photographs of five scrolls. Since then, almost 1.2 million people have viewed the scrolls, coming from 213 countries, including one day when the site attracted 400,000 visitors.
“We didn’t know it would be so popular; we’ve had so many visitors in such a short period of time,” said Dr. Susan Hazan, who, as the curator of new media at the Israel Museum, is overseeing the project.
“Within the first year of the inaugural of the renewed museum, we had 1 million visitors. I’m going to be very curious to see how long it takes us to have 1 million individual users go into our site now to embrace the Dead Sea Scrolls through this technology, though I have a feeling it’ll be a bit shorter than one year,” said Israel Museum director James Snyder at the website’s launch 10 days ago.
The site reached its 1 millionth visitor in less than five days. An average of 20,000-30,000 visitors now access the site each day, a tempo Hazan believes will remain steady.
Internet users from all of Israel’s Arab neighbors have visited the site (http://dss.collections.imj.org.il), except for Syria. The website was most popular in the United States (nearly 500,000 visitors), followed by Japan (63,000 visitors) and Canada (55,000 visitors). Visitors speaking 236 different languages have viewed the scrolls, which is connected to the Google Translate tool.
The partnership between Google and the Dead Sea Scrolls began just six months ago, as part of Google’s ongoing projects with museums around the world. Five of the eight Dead Sea Scrolls were photographed column by column in a period of just six days, and then the photos were stitched together to make a continuous scroll in a process that took several weeks. The high-resolution photographs can be examined in greater detail than with just the human eye.
At the website’s launch, Yossi Matias, the managing director of Google Israel’s R&D center, cited Google’s goal of breaking down barriers between information and people for their interest in facilitating online access to historical documents.
“I can’t think of more important content for users to have access to,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
Hazan said that the biggest referrals were from Facebook and Twitter, though Facebook users tended to spend significantly less time on the sites than those who were referred by other sites. The Post referred more than 3,000 visitors.
The five Dead Sea Scrolls that have been digitized thus far include the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll, and the War Scroll. The Great Isaiah Scroll, the most popular scroll, is searchable by verse in English. A Hebrew version is also under construction.
Snyder has called the scrolls “Israel’s Mona Lisa.”