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Biblical Archaeology Review 48:3, Fall 2022

Arch-Tech: Using AI to Identify Scroll Scribes

By Mladen Popović

After the Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls are the most famous collection of writings from ancient Israel. However, the individuals who penned the scrolls remain anonymous. To identify individual scribes in the Dead Sea Scrolls, my team of scroll scholars and artificial intelligence (AI) experts has developed a tool that analyzes the scrolls on the level of individual scribal strokes.

Scholars have previously suggested that single scribes wrote some manuscripts.a They based their claims on the detailed examination of handwriting. But traditional paleography (the study of ancient writing) is always subjective. Paleographers typically try to find a “smoking gun” in the form of a very specific trait in a letter that would identify a scribe. However, scribes may show a range in a variety of forms of individual letters within one or across more manuscripts. At the same time, different scribes may have almost the same handwriting. So the challenge for paleographers is to determine which differences in handwriting are likely to be idiographic (unique to an individual writer) and thus significant, which requires lots of experience.

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