Mosaic from Ein Gedi synagogue via Wikipedia, by Stéphanie Gromann
The black, charred 2.7-inch-long fragment of parchment lay for 1,500 years in the ashes of the ruins of the ancient synagogue at Ein Gedi, by the Dead Sea, before being found 45 years ago by Sefi Porath, who lead the excavations there.
The tiny curious object held onto its mystery until canny researchers were finally able to read it for the first time with the aid of CT. “The deciphering of the fragment, which was a puzzle for us for 45 years, is very exciting,” Porath noted, according to The Jeruselum Post.
The breakthrough combined CT scanning with digital-imaging software developed by students in the University of Kentucky computer science department, and its chairman, Brent Seales, reported the Lexington Herald-Leader.
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At the conference to announce the finding, hosted by the Israel Antiquities Authorities and the Culture and Sports Ministry, archeologist Porath, noted that a global team of researchers spent over a year deciphering the verses, which he had uncovered with his late colleague, Dr. Dan Barag.
“This discovery absolutely astonished us,” Pnina Shor, curator and director of IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls Projects remarked, according to CNET. “We were certain it was just a shot in the dark, but decided to try and scan it anyway.
The scrolls were scanned using micro CT X-ray scanning by the Israeli firm Merkel Technologies Ltd., which volunteered both the use of equipment and its experts' time. High-resolution 3D images of the inside of the scroll were produced and then sent to the University of Kentucky, reported CNET.
"Even though the scan was done, it was still impossible to read anything," Seales told the Herald-Leader. "It was still real hard to read anything because every slice just shows a cross-section. I mean, it's like trying to read a rolled up newspaper by just looking at the cross-sections at the end of it."
Seales explained that he had developed software that "makes the transition from the cross-sectional view to the surface view, which are the pages you want to see with the writing on them."
Seales developed the technology over the past 10 years with funding from Google and the National Science Foundation.