Dead Sea Scroll parchments were produced by different techniques

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  • Published: Jul 25, 2013
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Chemometrics & Informatics / MRI Spectroscopy / Proteomics / Atomic / Base Peak / Raman / X-ray Spectrometry / Infrared Spectroscopy / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / NMR Knowledge Base

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Spectroscopic examination of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls has shown that the parchments were originally produced by at least two different techniques, contrary to popular belief, say a duo of scientists in Germany. Ira Rabin and Oliver Hahn from the BAM Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing have studied scroll fragments which were discovered at four sites up to 50 km from the Qumran Cave, where more than 90% of the known fragments were found, as they discussed in Analytical Methods.

Using a combination of X-ray fluorescence, ATR-FTIR spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy, they were able to distinguish between contaminants originating from parchment production, which were distributed throughout the material, and contaminants from the caves where they were stored.

The ratio of Cl to Br content, measured by quantitative micro-X-ray fluorescence, was key to grouping the parchments. For some fragments, this ratio was consistent with water from the Dead Sea coastal region, supporting the existence of a local tannery just 3 km from Qumran. But other pieces had different Cl/Br ratios so must have been produced elsewhere.

Rabin and Hahn concluded that different parchment-making techniques coexisted in the region, including an "eastern" process typical of the tanned Qumran parchments and a "western" process which produced non-tanned parchments like those from the early Christian Greek period.

One benefit of this work was the realisation that a spatial resolution of 50 µm was sufficient for these measurements, which means that mobile instruments can be used to examine the Dead Sea Scrolls in situ in the various collections.

Image: courtesy The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, which has digitised its complete collection of Dead Sea Scrolls


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