Imagining Imaging

A New Pilot Project to Digitally Image the Scrolls.

On the 26th of August approximatey 25 scholars and heads of institutions who promote research on the Dead Sea Scrolls were invited to a private viewing at the offices of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. This project, initiated by the IAA intends to create a database of digital images of the entire corpus of scrolls (estimated at least 900 in number) which have been derived from caves and other sites in the Judean Wilderness. (This viewing was followed up by a press conference on the next day).

The room that will be devoted to the project sits across a hallway from the hermetically sealed vaults which house most of the scrolls which are housed by the IAA and next to the institution's conservation lab. This 4 x 5 meter room was outfitted with a table on each wall. Three tables had camera copy stands, each with a camera which is set to fulfill a specific purpose.

Two stands carried standard Hasselblad cameras. One was altered for infrared imaging (by the removal of the camera's infrared blocking filter) which will be carried out on all fragments of scrolls (estimated 15,000 in number). The camera back will take 48 (or 40?) megapixel images of each of the plates of fragments (c 10 x 12" each) with some variation in special cases. The light source is has a 940 nm filter for best contrast between the carbon ink and the darkening parchment surface.

The other camera was set for taking color images of the manuscripts. Normal color balancing will be applied to each image. Two high quality full range light sources will be applied to the scrolls at 45° angles to the subject. Unfortunately not all scrolls can be viewed in color and will need the infrared camera to view them due to the darkening of the skin surfaces over the centuries of deterioration.

The third camera was a CRI Multispectral Imaging System with a range between 650 and 1050 nanometers on the light spectrum (visible ultraviolet and infrared). The use of this camera, which hopefull will continue to be available, will be more useful for the fragments which will need special imaging beyond the 940 nm infrared range of the Haselblad.

The proprosed project is not yet in place and is being preceded by this presently announced "Pilot Project" under Dr. Gregory Bearman (formerly of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena) and Pnina Shor (Director of the Department Conservaton and Imaging at the IAA) which intends to be open to all suggestions and questions from those who interested.

This post will be followed by certain hopes of myself and other scholars who might have a certain "wish list" for what the larger project might accomplish for our own work,which may also be of interest to the world of lay persons and scientists who may still have their own questions.

S. Pfann

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