There is a very old and honorable guest visiting New England, more specifically – Boston, Massachusetts. This guest has been around… longer than our current calendar, is fragile and extremely brittle, yet, it’s still standing, and can even travel around the world on occasion! The guest of honor, of course, is the exhibit of Dead Sea Scrolls, joined by a large collection (more than 600 objects) of artifacts on loan from Israel Antiquities Authority.
The exhibit, Dead Sea Scrolls: Life in Ancient Times, opened at the Museum of Science this week with the main attraction being, of course, 2000+ year old fragments of the manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible. Mostly written on parchment (although there are some on papyrus and bronze), these precious texts survived all this time because they were hidden in dark caves in the dry and arid climate of the Qumran area adjoining the Dead sea. Originally discovered by a Bedouin shepherd around 1947, the first found scrolls underwent some very rough handling (hanging from a tent pole and occasionally being passed around in attempts to figure out their value), and sustained considerable damage. After that, they traveled around, sustaining further damage (one was stuck between two pieces of window glass, trapping the moisture with it, others were nearly destroyed with glue and tape during attempts to “fix” them, and quite a few suffered major mildew and acid damage from being stored in a damp vault placed in non-archival manila envelopes). But once they were finally identified and acquired by the Antiquities Authority, major preservation efforts were made. Tellingly, the maximum time conservators allow for them to be displayed is 90 days, after which the 10 featured scroll fragments will be switched out with new pieces.
Since 1991, the scrolls reside in solander boxes in a climate controlled laboratory while Israel Museum conservators concentrate on removal of tape, oils, metals, salt and other contaminants using the most advanced modern scientific methods. The Museum and Google joined forces to complete the digitization project which is due to be finished in 2016, but you can already scroll (pun intended) through the scanned texts, zooming in areas with very high resolution views, and even read the instant online translation.