The Dead Sea Scrolls Come To Life Via Infrared

For four decades after the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, Israeli authorities limited study of them to a small clique of scholars. Other scientists grew frustrated with the slow pace of the "Dead Sea cartel" at reconstructing the 100,000 scroll fragments that were also found. So 1,700 photos of key fragments were smuggled out of Israel and published in 1991. With the dam breached, Israel started enlisting the help of additional researchers.

Soon, far more fragments will be on call--electronically--to religious scholars seeking insights into Judaism and the origins of Christianity. Scientists at Rochester Institute of Technology have found a way to decipher unreadable fragments, many of them now black with age, says Robert Johnson, head of RIT's Center for Imaging Science. Under infrared light, the original writing is revealed--and even when it isn't, a computer can often fill in what's missing. RIT is storing the reconstructed images on CD-ROM disks for remote retrieval.

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