Redesigning conservation strategies of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Since their discovery in the late 1940s, the Dead Sea Scrolls, some 900 ancient Jewish texts, have never stopped attracting the attention of scholars and general public, because they were created towards the end of the Second Temple period and the “time of Christ”. Most of the work on them has been dedicated to the information contained in the scrolls’ text, leaving physical aspects of the writing materials essentially unexamined. They are, however, crucial for both historical insights and the long term preservation strategies of the manuscripts. Environmental aspects such as humidity, temperature, light, air pollutants, and anthropogenic additives are main factors responsible for the rapid post-discovery deterioration of these fragile collagen-based parchments. Our recent discoveries on response of collagen fibers to changes in relative humidity evidenced extraordinary stress generation induced by drying collagen materials. The generated force can be linked to the collagen contraction at all levels of structure, from molecular up to the macroscopic scale. These evidences, when put into the context of Dead Sea scrolls, suggest a possibility that intrinsic collagen fiber properties could be one of the major causes of deterioration of these precious ancient documents. In this project, using advanced characterization and modeling approaches, we plan to monitor the response of collagen fibers in new, artificially aged and ancient parchments (including Dead Sea Scrolls fragments) to external stimuli (humidity, temperature, light). The goal is to define the optimal long term preservation strategies by minimizing the internal stresses caused by changes in environmental conditions. Furthermore, we plan to test effects of restorations treatments commonly used on ancient parchments with the objective to design innovative restoration strategies.

Masic, A., M. R. Chierotti, R. Gobetto, G. Martra, I. Rabin, and S. Coluccia. "Solid-State and Unilateral Nmr Study of Deterioration of a Dead Sea Scroll Fragment." [In English]. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 402, no. 4 (Feb 2012): 1551-57.

Masic, Admir, Luca Bertinetti, Roman Schuetz, Shu-Wei Chang, Till Hartmut Metzger, Markus J. Buehler, and Peter Fratzl. "Osmotic Pressure Induced Tensile Forces in Tendon Collagen." Nat. Commun. 6 (01/22/online 2015): 5942.

Rabin, Ira, and Oliver Hahn. "Characterization of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Advanced Analytical Techniques." Analytical Methods 5, no. 18 (2013): 4648-54.

Rabin, Ira, Oliver Hahn, Timo Wolff, Admir Masic, and Gisela Weinberg. "On the Origin of the Ink of the Thanksgiving Scroll (1qhodayota)." Dead Sea Discoveries 16, no. 1 (2009): 97-106.

Schutz, R., L. Bertinetti, I. Rabin, P. Fratzl, and A. Masic. "Quantifying Degradation of Collagen in Ancient Manuscripts: The Case of the Dead Sea Temple Scroll." Analyst  (2013).

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