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Biblical Archaeology Review 48:4, Winter 2022

Arch-Tech: Reading “Invisible” Dead Sea Scrolls

By Christy ChapmanW. Brent Seales

Technology in the hands of scholars, conservators, and archaeologists alike has long been central to the successful preservation and analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls. While early technologies involved sticky tape for rejoining fragments and analog photography for their documentation, the advanced tools of today allow fragile scrolls to be read without even unwrapping them.

The breathtaking range of the scrolls spans everything from major texts, such as the Temple Scroll, to unopened phylactery cases with slips of hidden writing, to a small number of completely unopened scrolls. Although the glory of the collection is represented by the substantially complete and amazingly preserved copy of the Book of Isaiah on display at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, its remarkable condition is the exception rather than the rule. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the scroll archive contains more than 25,000 fragments, many no larger than a postage stamp. Practically all of them consist of many layers, portions of a single scroll stuck together due to damage and decay.

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