The charred manuscript is too delicate and damaged to unfurl. So researchers figured out how to read it from the outside.
At first glance, you could easily mistake this scorched, 2,000-year-old scroll for a hunk of lump charcoal. It’s been burned and crushed, it crumbles at the touch, and it looks absolutely, hopelessly unreadable.
Yet a team of archaeologists and computer scientists led by Brent Seales, a computer imaging expert at the University of Kentucky, has digitally unwrapped it. The En-Gedi manuscript is the first heavily damaged ancient scroll to be virtually unraveled and read, line by line, without opening it.
The scroll, which now resembles a fist-sized glob of ash, was originally discovered in 1970 in Israel near the Dead Sea, in a damaged Holy Ark in an ancient Jewish synagogue. Until now it has been carefully preserved, but never read. Seales and his colleagues just described how the scroll was virtual read in a paper published in the journal Science Advances.
“Like many badly damaged materials in archives around the world, the En-Gedi scroll was shelved, leaving its potentially valuable contents hidden and effectively locked away by its own damaged condition,” writes Seales and his colleagues.