Burnt Biblical Scroll Deciphered by Digital Technology

A burnt scroll discovered inside in the synagogue at Ein Gedi, Israel can finally be read thanks to new technology. At first considered a lost cause because it was both wrapped and burnt, University of Kentucky Professor Brent Seales were able to digitally “unwrap” it to reveal the oldest lines of Leviticus (Lev 1:1-8) discovered since the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The combination of high-resolution scanning and the team’s “unwrapping” software made the discovery possible. The scroll was discovered in 1970 at an excavation of Ein Gedi, and is dated to the 6th century AD.

The research team at UK produced the flattened, readable text from the micro-computed tomography of the Ein Gedi scroll via the following successive stages:

1. Volume preparation

The data scan from the micro-CT machine is processed in order to enhance the ability to see the structures in the scan: the surface of the material, and the ink that is written on that material.

2. Surface segmentation

The data scan is carefully partitioned into the surfaces on which there is writing.  This partitioning is automatic and uses computer algorithms that are being developed through research. The result is a 3-D surface that is positioned exactly in the data volume where there is evidence of surfaces and writing.  Because the surfaces are rolled up layers within the scroll, they are shaped like tightly coiled sheets of paper.

3. User guidance

The user revises and improves the surface estimates that were made automatically by the surface segmentation step. The user is guided by views of the data scan and a draft view of how the surface appears in the scan.

4. Texture rendering

The completed surface is rendered as a high quality 3-D surface with the texture (markings, structure and ink evidence) from its precise position in the original data scan. The rendering step also produces a flattened version of the 3-D surface texture. This unwraps the potentially curvy and coiled 3-D surface so that it is a single flat page.

This video explains the process using the tasty medium of pastry.

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