Computer imaging techniques are commonly used to preserve and share readable manuscripts, but capturing writing locked away in ancient, deteriorated documents poses an entirely different challenge. This software pipeline—referred to as “virtual unwrapping”—allows textual artifacts to be read completely and noninvasively. The systematic digital analysis of the extremely fragile En-Gedi scroll (the oldest Pentateuchal scroll in Hebrew outside of the Dead Sea Scrolls) reveals the writing hidden on its untouchable, disintegrating sheets. Our approach for recovering substantial ink-based text from a damaged object results in readable columns at such high quality that serious critical textual analysis can occur. Hence, this work creates a new pathway for subsequent textual discoveries buried within the confines of damaged materials.

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Published in Science Advances, v. 2, no. 9, p.1-9.

2016 © The Authors, some rights reserved; exclusive licensee American Association for the Advancement of Science.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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W.B.S. acknowledges funding from the NSF (awards IIS-0535003 and IIS-1422039).

W.B.S. acknowledges funding from Google and support from S. Crossan (Founding Director of the Google Cultural Institute).

Related Content

All data needed to evaluate the conclusions in the paper are present in the paper and/or the Supplementary Materials. Additional data related to this paper may be requested from the authors. All scan data and results from this paper are archived at the Department of Computer Science, University of Kentucky (Lexington, KY) and are available at http://vis.uky.edu/virtual-unwrapping/engedi2016/.

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Fig. 1 The charred scroll from En-Gedi.

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Fig. 2 Completed virtual unwrapping for the En-Gedi scroll.

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Fig. 3 Segmentation challenges in the En-Gedi scroll, based on examples in the slice view.

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Fig. 4 A portion of the segmented surface and how it intersects the volume.

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Fig. 5 The importance of accurate surface localization on the final generated texture.

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Fig. 6 The geometric parameters for directional texturing.

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Fig. 7 The effect of directional texturing to improve ink response.

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Fig. 8 Demonstration of stored provenance chain.

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Fig. 9 Partial transcription and translation of recovered text.

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Fig. 10 Timeline placing the En-Gedi scroll within the context of other biblical discoveries.

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table S1. Radiocarbon dating results of the En-Gedi scroll (25).