Scroll with ancient text (© Baz Ratner/Reuters)
Sections of the Dead Sea Scrolls on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (© Baz Ratner/Reuters)

Imaging technology developed for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered new secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Using devices originally designed for space telescopes, Israeli and American archaeologists discovered that degraded fragments could reveal previously invisible text. Although ordinary cameras could not detect writing, researchers used multispectral imaging technology from NASA and some nifty filters to uncover the hidden text.

Five images of Dead Sea Scroll text (NASA)
A section of the Dead Sea Scrolls becomes legible with the aid of image processing. (NASA)

“Multispectral imaging lets us read what is invisible to the eye,” said Pnina Shor, the head of the Dead Sea Scrolls lab, in an interview with The Times of Israel.

Most excitingly, some of the newly discovered text did not fit any known manuscript. It points to the possibility of an undiscovered text.

The Israel Antiquities Authority unveiled these new findings in a May event honoring the 70th anniversary of the Dead Sea Scrolls’ discovery.

Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Ruins at bottom of hill (© Richard T. Nowitz/Corbis/Getty Images)
Ruins of Qumran, near caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in Israel (© Richard T. Nowitz/Corbis/Getty Images)

The scrolls contain some of the oldest surviving works of the Hebrew Bible, part of the sacred text of both Judaism and Christianity. Bedouin shepherds and archaeologists discovered the trove — hundreds of ancient manuscripts — in the 1940s and 1950s. The scrolls and fragments from the caves of Qumran revolutionized the study of biblical history and life 2000 years ago.

Finger pointing to text (© Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)
An Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) staff member points at an infrared scan of a fragment of a scroll containing previously unseen text. (© Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

Undecipherable fragments languished in cigar boxes in the Israel Museum for decades. But when American doctoral student Oren Ableman started sorting them a year and a half ago, he found traces of lettering.

“Usually scholars are dealing with Dead Sea Scrolls materials after they’ve been cleaned and treated. These fragments were never cleaned and treated,” Ableman said to The Times of Israel.

Ableman’s lab had access to a multispectral imaging device developed with NASA, and he could read text beyond the decay.

Ableman said he can’t believe he’s been a part of a historic study as a graduate student. “It’s exciting.”

From archaeology labs to farmers’ fields, NASA brings space technology down to Earth.