The Temple Scroll: Reconstructing an ancient manufacturing practice

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Science Advances  06 Sep 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 9, eaaw7494
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw7494


The miraculously preserved 2000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient texts of invaluable historical significance, were discovered in the mid-20th century in the caves of the Judean desert. The texts were mainly written on parchment and exhibit vast diversity in their states of preservation. One particular scroll, the 8-m-long Temple Scroll is especially notable because of its exceptional thinness and bright ivory color. The parchment has a layered structure, consisting of a collagenous base material and an atypical inorganic overlayer. We analyzed the chemistry of the inorganic layer using x-ray and Raman spectroscopies and discovered a variety of evaporitic sulfate salts. This points toward a unique ancient production technology in which the parchment was modified through the addition of the inorganic layer as a writing surface. Furthermore, understanding the properties of these minerals is particularly critical for the development of suitable conservation methods for the preservation of these invaluable historical documents.

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