The Dead Sea Scrolls have been deteriorating ever since their discovery. Removing them from the dark and dry, naturally preserving environment of the caves began the process, and mistakes and mistreatment over the years have exacerbated the problem. The renewed, worldwide public interest in the scrolls in the last few years, however, has spurred new efforts to halt the deterioration.
At the Shrine of the Book, on the grounds of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the most complete and beautiful of the Qumran scrolls, as well as a large amount of material from the Bar-Kokhba caves and Masada, are fairly well cared for. Scientists from the Getty Conservation Institute have been assisting the conservators at the Shrine of the Book for several years. Current preservation efforts are focusing on two projects. The first is the design of a new display case for the scrolls, one that will have a virtually oxygen-free atmosphere and carefully regulated temperature and humidity. The other project is a study to discover why the scroll known as Genesis Apocryphon is deteriorating so rapidly (possible reasons include the composition of the parchment or the ink). This study is a prerequisite to any attempt to halt the process because any ill-guided effort might do more harm than good. Discussions are now being held to expand the Getty’s role in providing help and advice concerning the preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls.