The Secret to the Miraculous Preservation of a Useless Sea Scroll Might be Coated with Salt

Enlarge / Partial view of the Useless Sea Temple parchment, one of many longest biblical texts discovered for the reason that 1940s.

A workforce of MIT scientists studied a fraction of one of many well-known Useless Sea Scrolls and found that the parchment was coated with an uncommon layer of sulfate salts. That is maybe one of many explanation why the rolls have been so effectively preserved, nevertheless it additionally implies that delicate scrolls could be extra susceptible to small adjustments in humidity than one does. thought it initially. The researchers described their work in a current Science Advances article, noting that a greater understanding of historic parchment manufacturing methods might additionally show helpful in detecting fakes from the Useless Sea Scroll.

These historic Hebrew texts – about 900 full and partial rolls, saved in clay pots – have been first found, scattered in varied caves close to what was as soon as the Qumran settlement, simply north of the Useless Sea, by Bedouin shepherds -1947. Qumrun was destroyed by the Romans round AD 73, and historians imagine that the scrolls have been hidden within the caves by a sect known as the Essenes to guard them from destruction. Pure limestone and cave circumstances have preserved the scrolls for millennia; they date again to the third century earlier than our period and the primary century of our period.

Co-author Admir Masic, now at MIT, has lengthy been within the parchment used for the Useless Sea Scrolls (in addition to different historic paperwork) going again to his graduate research in Italy. The rollers have proven indicators of degradation since they have been found and moved from the caves to the museums, in all probability because of early scientific efforts to melt them to make them simpler to unwind. Scientists like Masic need to be taught extra about them within the hope of slowing down or stopping this degradation.

"We’re speaking about two thousand yr previous paperwork that cowl a implausible interval throughout which Christianity was born," he stated. "Which means that they’re extraordinarily priceless from a historic perspective, and we’d like to consider methods to protect them."

The temple scroll is the longest and finest preserved parade of the Useless Sea. The textual content appears to cowl a model of the fabric discovered within the biblical books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, together with plans for a Jewish temple and guidelines regarding temple practices and sacrificial choices. Parchment is normally made out of animal skins. Hair and greasy residues have been eliminated by enzymatic remedies or related remedies in historic instances. Then, the skins have been scraped and stretched on a body to dry.

The parchment of the temple is uncommon as a result of the textual content seems on the flesh facet of the parchment, slightly than on the facet of the hair. From a cloth perspective, the Scroll Temple has a whiter floor than the others, and its fineness is uncommon – its thickness is only one / 250th of an inch (one-tenth of a millimeter). The specialists speculated that the parchment might have been divided into two layers throughout its preparation. And the parchment has not been handled by conservatives, so its unique composition is undamaged.

Optical microscopy of the scroll of the temple, displaying its layered construction of the macro on the micro scale.


Schuetz et al. / Sci. Adv.

Raman spectroscopic photographs and X-ray fluorescence of the Scroll Temple.


Schuetz et al. / Sci. Adv.

SEM photographs, ternary diagrams and dwell maps for the textual content and verses of the temple scroll.


Schuetz et al. / Sci. Adv.

The Useless Sea Scrolls are on show within the ebook sanctuary on the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in 2008.


Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Pictures

Admir Masic of MIT makes use of an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to investigate historic supplies in Italy.


Lillie Pacquette / MIT

Naturally, the scroll of the temple attracted the eye of Masic and he was delighted to obtain permission to review a small fragment.

"It is rather uncommon to discover a full parchment," stated Masic. "Usually, these manuscripts got here to us within the type of tiny fragments." With a number of graduate college students, he analyzed the chemical composition of the fragment utilizing varied methods, together with X-ray fluorescence, power dispersive spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy. This allowed them to map in nice element the totally different chemical spectra on the floor of the fragment.

The presence of sulfur, sodium, and calcium within the evaporites on the floor of the parchment is probably what offers the Scroll of the Temple its whiter shade and should have additionally helped protect the parchment. (These substances are known as evaporites as a result of the sulphate salts dissolve within the water and, when the water evaporates, these minerals stay on the parchment.) Masic famous that the sulphate salts additionally included gypsum, a sulphate used calcium combine with animal glue. It's actually a speculation, however he thinks previous parchment makers might have taken an analogous method to writing parchment.

A lot of the Useless Sea Scrolls are written on a hybrid of parchment and leather-based, normally made out of skins of cattle, sheep or goats. There may be proof that, in contrast to medieval parchment making (which was comparatively technically uniform), the method within the early Center East was way more diversified. Some parchments are tanned (an Jap custom) and a few not (a Western custom).

In accordance with Masic, another Useless Sea Scrolls additionally had an analogous salt coating, suggesting that ready parchments have been being imported into the realm. It's very totally different from what we beforehand knew about parchment-making practices within the space. "We weren’t conscious that there was a lot communication between these civilizations, however this proof is definitely within the route of commerce," he stated.

As well as, among the many salts current have been glauberite and thenardite, in addition to gypsum, none of that are frequent to the area. "These evaporative salts are nothing typical of this time and parchment making," stated Masic. "The truth that these evaporated salts don’t appear typical of the Useless Sea area – nonetheless must be confirmed by the geologists might have been imported from elsewhere, bringing new proof of a dwelling alternate of supplies and of applied sciences. "

The dangerous information: these salts are very delicate to the humidity of the air. They take up it simply, which may additional degrade the parchment. Masic recommends that the Conservatives maintain this in thoughts whereas they proceed to work to protect the Useless Sea Scrolls. He additionally thinks that it might be doable to reconstruct the opposite parchments of all these fragments, relying on their distinctive chemical traits.

DOI: Science Advances, 2019. 10.1126 / sciadv.aaw7494 (About DOIs).

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