Image processing reveals new information on Dead Sea Scrolls

Scientists and archaeologists recently applied image-processing techniques to damaged portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, allowing scholars to read segments of text for the first time in history. Centuries of exposure to bat guano in desert caves has chemically degraded portions of the scrolls, with dark brownish-orange stains rendering the black writing almost illegible. Funded in part by a grant from the state of New York, engineers at Xerox Digital Imaging Technology Center (Webster, NY) led by

Image processing reveals new information on Dead Sea Scrolls

Scientists and archaeologists recently applied image-processing techniques to damaged portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, allowing scholars to read segments of text for the first time in history. Centuries of exposure to bat guano in desert caves has chemically degraded portions of the scrolls, with dark brownish-orange stains rendering the black writing almost illegible. Funded in part by a grant from the state of New York, engineers at Xerox Digital Imaging Technology Center (Webster, NY) led by Keith Knox, in collaboration with Robert Johnston and colleagues at the Rochester Institute of Technology Center for Imaging Science (RIT; Rochester, NY), used a Xerox-developed linear color space model on portions of the Temple Scroll to separate the black text from the colored background.

The YES color space model is a red-green-blue linear transformation that separates a scene into a contrast image (the luminance Y channel) and a pair of color component images (the red-minus-green E channel and the yellow-minus-blue S channel). While Y-channel images of the scroll showed no additional information, the chrominance channels, particularly the E channel, not only made some of the degraded lines more readable, but revealed previously invisible characters transferred from other sections of the scroll. Biblical scholar James Charlesworth of the Princeton University Theological Seminary (Princeton, NJ) was able to trace the transferred words to their original locations, filling in portions of the scrolls that were heretofore blank.

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