Proton beams have shed new light on the origin of the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, suggesting its parchment was manufactured locally.
According to a study carried out at the labs of the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) in Catania, Sicily, the 28-foot-long Temple Scroll was made in Qumran, in what is now Israel, in the same area on the Dead Sea coast where the faded parchments were found hidden in caves half a century ago.
The scrolls, a collection of about 900 highly fragmented documents, are considered one of the greatest archeological discoveries of the 20th century. They include the earliest written texts of the Bible and are nearly 2,300 years old. In addition to the biblical texts, the scrolls are filled with apocryphal material and sectarian writings, dating back to between 100-200 B.C. to 70 A.D.
Written as though God, himself, is speaking, the Temple Scroll contains detailed instructions on the building of a temple and dictates how laws are to be communicated to the people.
"We selected the fragments from the Temple Scroll because they were the cleanest, and would make our analysis easier," INFN physicist Giuseppe Pappalardo said.
Pappalardo and colleagues analyzed seven centimeter-sized fragments of the scroll using a new portable technique called "XPIXE" — X-ray and Particle Induced X-ray emission — and a particle accelerator.
"Basically, we concentrated on water. Like most of the other parchments, the Temple Scroll was made from animal skin, thus its production required extensive washing. Our goal was to compare and possibly find a match between the chemistry of the scroll and the very peculiar chemistry of the water from the area where the parchments were found," Pappalardo, who developed the XPIXE technology, told Discovery News.
The researchers bombarded the scroll fragments first with alpha-particles and X-rays from the portable XPIXE device, and then with proton beams produced by a particle accelerator.
The X-rays emitted by the samples showed that all of the fragments contained chlorine and that the ratio of chlorine to bromine within the Temple Scroll fragments was about three times higher than is normally found in sea water. The researchers concluded that the scroll may have been made from the very salty Dead Sea water.
"Our study focused on the parchment, we still don't know where the scroll was written. We are now planning to analyze the ink," Pappalardo said.
According to Ira Rabin, a scientist at the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing in Berlin, Germany, the Italian technology is important, but must be used in combination with other techniques, which are needed to validate the assumptions made by the experimental, non-destructive method.
"The Dead Sea Scrolls present an extremely complicated system that cannot be characterized by single technique. Each technique delivers a small part of the solution, only a combination of the results might produce a relevant result," Rabin told Discovery News.