Solved the mystery of “indestructible” manuscripts from the bottom of the Dead Sea

A team of scientists from MIT, led by Admir Masic, developed a non-invasive research technique that finally answered the question why the records of over 2,000 years have been preserved in such good condition.

This is very important for at least two reasons, first of all we will learn more about the ways of making parchments in antiquity, and secondly we will be able to better protect these relics of the past for future generations. It cannot be denied that the biggest problem of ancient finds, especially all kinds of entries on paper, papyrus or parchment, is their fragility – it is better not even to think how many valuable works or even entire libraries have been destroyed by millennia of our history.

However, as it turns out, some ancient writers have the art of preserving their notes in such a way that they have survived to our times. One of the best examples are manuscripts from the Dead Sea (also known as manuscripts from Qumran, Dead Sea scrolls, manuscripts from the Dead Sea or manuscripts from the Dead Sea), i.e. a collection of documents written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, found in 1947–1956 in 11 caves near the ruins of Kumran in the West Bank.

It is estimated that they were hidden there in the first century AD (their origin dates back to the period from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD) to protect them from the Romans when they invaded and destroyed the settlement of Kumran during the Jewish war (66-73 AD) technologius. This combination of religious texts, some of which were created long before the foundation of the settlement, quickly became an international sensation, which unfortunately led to the destruction of some of them.

Local people were able to cut them to pieces and sell them to tourists as souvenirs, and scientists too quickly wanted to know their content and translate them – on the one hand, it allowed to shed new light on certain historical events, but on the other hand it ended with great damage to these priceless artifacts . Fortunately, not at all, because some of them have been preserved in extremely good condition – according to MIT researchers, the temple scroll is 7.6 meters long, which is the clearest and whitest of all, despite the fact that it only has 0.1 mm thick.

It was on it that scientists decided to focus and, thanks to non-invasive X-rays and Raman spectroscopy, scanned the document to create its high-resolution chemical map. Thanks to this, sodium sulfates were discovered as a product of brine evaporation, and since the document had never been in the hands of conservation experts, everything on it has remained unpolluted. This is very important, because it was the chemical composition that allowed to state that this particular document was created from dried animal skin, which was softened, stretched and dried on a special frame, and then rubbed with a salt mixture to create a smoother and whiter writing surface – as now also turns out to be more resistant to external factors.

Interestingly, however, the salt composition should in this case be like a fingerprint, clearly indicating the place of origin of the brine, but … the document does not agree with the composition of the Dead Sea. In short, research provides answers to one question, but also raises more: – Research goes far beyond the Dead Sea scrolls. For example, they show that during the early days of making parchments in the Middle East, many different techniques were used, which is a serious contrast to the one used in the Middle Ages. The study also identifies initial treatments, providing historians and conservators with a new set of analytical tools to study ancient scrolls, the study authors say.

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