Abstracts of Papers

presented at

Symposium on the Role of Analytical Methods
in the Study, Restoration and Conservation of Ancient Manuscripts,
with Emphasis on the Dead Sea Scrolls

14th April, 1999
The National Library of the Czech Republic

Taskforce for Science and the Scrolls
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Science and Antiquity Group
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

PO Box 35280
91350 Jerusalem ISRAEL

Azriel Gorski, editor

Ancient Microsatellite DNA in animal skin

Joachim Burger, Ina Pfeiffer, Susanne Hummel, Bernd Herrman
Historical Anthropology and Human Ecology - University of Goettingen
Buergerstrasse 50 - 37073 Goettingen ­ Germany
Tel: 49 - 551 - 39 96 85; email: jburger@gwdg.de

From the beginning of hominisation, animal skin has been an essential substrate of human culture activity. Hide, pelts and leather have served since prehistory as clothing, housing coverings, and containers. In historical times, another form of animal skin, parchment, was an essential "vehicle" of cultural activity in Eurasia. Parchment served as writing material and as book coverings up into recent history. Both parchment and leather arose as writing material in the cultures of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. Although Papyrus was more common in Egypt, animal skin was preferred for its superior quality, especially for important sacred scripture.
Past investigations have shown that ancient DNA can be detected in ancient soft tissues (Higuchi et al. 1984) and various other paleontological, archaeological and museum materials (cf. Herrmann & Hummel 1994). Even ancient coprolites reveal enough DNA to reconstruct prehistoric diet (Poinar et al. 1998). A preliminary report on the isolation of DNA from parchments was released in connection with the examinations of the Dead Sea scrolls (Woodward et al.1996).

We analysed early modern parchments and book coverings made of leather from the manuscript department of the Goettingen State and University Library and hide/leather from the archaeological record. We obtained genetic information on three different systematic levels:

(1) Establishing the species of origin (mtDNA sequencing)
(2) Identifying the individual animal (STR profiling)
(3) Palaeo-population genetics (mtDNA, STR allele frequences)

DNA is preserved in ancient tissue under dry and cold conditions. Moreover, a neutral or slightly alkaline pH value and the absence of microorganisms favours DNA preservation (Burger et al. 1999)
This paper mainly deals with the identification of the individual animal by STR analysis. STRs (or microsatellites) are tandemly repeated units that occur in all eucaryotes. They are individually polymorphic and can be used in paternity testing and for identification of individuals. This is significant for paleaographic reconstruction as isolated fragments of manuscripts can be set in accordance to each other.

We thank the German Ministry for Science, Education, Research, and Technology for financial support.


Burger, J., Hummel, S., Herrmann, B., Henke, W. (1999) DNA preservation. A microsatellite DNA study on ancient skeletal remains. Electrophoresis in press.

Higuchi, R., Bowman, B., Freiberger, M., Ryder, O.A., Wilson, A.C. (1984) DNA sequences from the quagga, an extinct member of the horse family. Nature 312, 282-284.

Herrmann, B., Hummel, S. (eds.) Ancient DNA. Recovery and analysis of genetic material from paleontological, archaeological, museum, medical, and forensic specimen. New York 1994.

Poinar, H.N., Hofreiter, M., Spaulding, W.G., Martin, P.S., Stankiewcz, B.A., Bland, H., Evershed, R.P., Possnert, G., Pääbo, S. (1998) Molecular Coproscopy: Dung and Diet of the Extinct ground sloth Nothrotheriops shastensis. Science 281, 402-406.

Woodward, S.R., Kahila, G., Smith, P., Greenblatt, C., Zias, J., Broshi, M., in: Perry, D.W. & Ricks, S.(eds.) Current research and technological developments on the Dead Sea scrolls. Leiden 1996,


The Qumran Community, The Dead Sea Scrolls and The Physical Method of Scrolls' Reconstruction

Esther G. Chazon

Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Approximately 850 scrolls were discovered in 11 caves near Wadi Qumran between 1947 and 1956. The Scrolls include books of the Hebrew Bible, sectarian writings of the local Quman community, and about 200 previously unknown Jewish exegetical, homiletical, liturgical and sapiential works. This presentation will briefly survey the Qumran library and the questions of the identity of the Qumran community, the relationship between the archaeological site and the Scrolls, and the contacts between this sectarian
community and other groups in Judaea.

The second part of this presentation will explain and demonstrate the method for reconstructing scrolls from scattered fragments, which was developed independently by Hartmut Stegemann of Goettingen University and Emile Puech of the Ecole Biblique. This method uses observation of a scroll's physical remains (especially damage patterns) and codicological features (ruling, columns, stitching, etc.) to reconstruct the original order of the fragments. This author worked with Prof. Stegemann on the reconstruction of a large scroll of prayers for the days of the week entitled, "The Words of the Luminaries." This reconstruction will be used to demonstrate the method.


Analysis of Microscopic Material and the Stitching of the
Dead Sea Scrolls, a Preliminary Study

Azriel Gorski
Taskforce for Science and the Scrolls and Science and Antiquity Group
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The application of microscopic and forensic techniques to archaeology can recover information about human activities, which is present in the archaeological record and which is currently not being recovered or even considered.

A basic tenet in the forensic sciences is the Locard Exchange Principle which states that ³Every contact leaves traces. Whenever any two objects come into contact with one another they affect one another in some way. The nature of the effect and the particles exchanged or deposited will depend upon the nature or the contact and the nature of the objects.

This study will describe the microscopic traces are present on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The stitching of the Habakkuk Commentary and the Isaiah Manuscript A, from cave 1 will also be described. From the stitching information about the manner of stitching and the person or persons doing the stitching was derived.



Dr. Jan Gunneweg, Institute of Archaeology and the
Orion Institute, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Dr. Marta Balla, Technical University of Budapest

Did the Essenes, assumed to have lived at Qumran, make the jars found there in order to store their scrolls as in a library, or did the jars and their content came from other places. In order to trace pottery, a method called neutron activation analysis which is able to fingerprint pottery according to its chemical composition, is applicable. This technique is based on the premise that clay used for pottery making is different anywhere on Earth. Neutron activation analysis consists of the irradiation of the samples by low-energy neutrons producing radioactive isotopes of each chemical element and the spectroscopic measurement of the emitted gamma-photons produce a qualitative and quantitative determination of the elements in pottery. A pure Germanium detector dissects the gamma spectrum into about 30 chemical elements.

100 samples from all kind of pottery found in the caves as well as in the settlement of Qumran were analyzed at the Technical University of Budapest. A quarter of these were scroll jars, a quarter were potential reference material to the site, whereas the rest were samples of all kind of other pottery found at the site and in the caves. This pottery provenance research would have been impossible without our data bank of data collected by us over the past 25 years in Jerusalem.

The Qumran pottery divided into 23 vessels bearing a local chemical character. Furthermore, sixteen scroll jars have a composition which is similar among themselves but different from the previous group. Special attention was given to a store jar which bears twice the name ROMA. Its importance was previously claimed to be interesting in connection with the Gospel of St. Mark. This pilot study has opened the road for a more focused sampling of certain pottery found on the spot and to compare that with other Dead Sea sites including the Jordanian side. Trade relations and interconnections between these population may be clarified by this analysis.


What can fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls teach us of ancient animal husbandry?

Gila Kahila Bar-Gal

With thanks to P. Smith, S. Woodward, J. Zias, M. Broshi and C. Greenblatt

A shift of nomadic hunter- gatherers to sedentary communities occurred some 10,000 years ago in the Near East. This shift was associated with plant and animal domestication, with goats and sheep possibly domesticated during the late Pre Pottery Neolithic B period. The change in human activities during that period caused marked genetic changes among the domestic and wild species of Caprinae present in the region. Changes in the wild species are due to natural selection and environmental pressures, whereas changes in the domestic species are due to human control of reproduction and selection for specific qualities some of which may not be viable in the wild. It is assumed that domestication took place in small herds and that human selection and selective breeding have contributed to accelerated genetic change and reduced variability over time.

The main goal of this research is to compare and contrast the rate of genetic change and the amount of genetic variability within and between selected species of wild and domesticated forms of Capra in the Southern Levant over the past 12,500 years. The research is based on analyses of DNA sequences in mitochondria and nuclear genes of modern and ancient Caprinae (C. ibex nubiana, C. aegagrus aegagrus, C. aegagrus cretica and C. hircus spp.).

As part of the research the data will be used to answer three main questions concerning the origin, production and interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls:
1. Identification of the animal species that were used for parchment production.
2. Determination of the origin of the animals used for producing the parchment - did they come from a local herds at Qumran or number of different sites?
3. Identification of the degree of heterozygosity between different fragments of scrolls in order to group together fragments and obtain new readable text.


Conservation and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Michael Maggen
The Israel Museum in Jerusalem

In 70 A.D. the Essenes already considered the preservation of their precious scrolls a necessity and it would be true to say that they were the first conservators of these scrolls, now known as The Dead Sea Scrolls. These ascetics, who lived in the Judean Desert, saw it necessary to place the scrolls in ceramic vessels, seal the vessels, and place them in a dry, remote cave of Qumran.

From the moment the scrolls were found to this date a battery of researchers and conservators have been attempting to understand not only the written substance of the scrolls, but also the physical changes the scrolls are undergoing and to find the optimum preservation conditions. Three important surveys of the scrolls were written in the past, two by The Getty Conservation Institute and one by the Israeli Antiquities Authorities. These surveys have influenced heavily on the preservation concepts of the scrolls due to their detailed reporting on the condition of the scrolls, their display, and their storage. In addition they list suggestions for improving the preventive care and maintenance of the scrolls.

In order to supervise and arrange for the current preservation of the scrolls The Scroll Committee was established. This committee includes conservators and curators from The Israel Museum as well as from The Israel Antiquities Authorities. The committee addresses all aspects of preservation regarding the scrolls as well as suggests and executes research on the scrolls.

Today there are several changes undertaken at The Shrine of the Book, the permanent display and housing complex of The Dead Sea Scrolls at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. New display cases are taking the place of the thirty year old cases. The new cases are not only more attractive but are safer to open and close and most importantly allow safer handling of the scrolls. In addition, changes in the storage facilities, named the safe room, are taking place. These changes will not only improve the usage of space in the safe room and allow more room for research of the scrolls but will modernize and improve the shelving system currently used.


Hair follicle Analysis of Primitive Parchments: An Esesential Tool for the Reconstruction of Fragmentary Dead Sea Scrolls

Stephen J. Pfann
Center for the Study of Early Christianity

The pattern, form, size and density of hair follicles which occur over the hides of various animals do so with a fair degree of consistency. Those hides which preserve their epidermis and are used in the preparation of scrolls maintain these hair follicle patterns. These same follicle patterns preserved on the surfaces of disjointed fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls has proven to contain important clues aiding in their reconstruction (and thus their meaning and interpretation).

This form of analysis was developed by the author while working with the edition of the various Dead Sea Scrolls assigned to him for publication over the past decade. With the aid of the binocular microscope many proposed links between disjointed fragments have been either confirmed of disproved based on this work.


Between Preservation and Museology:
The Exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls in its First Years

Adolfo Roitman, Israel Museum

The present paper deals with a question that lies in the zone between thearea of preservation and museology, namely: to what extent has the concern with the preservation of the scrolls been an important factor concerning the ways of exhibiting the scrolls over the years?

In the first part, I shall survey the method of exhibiting the scrolls used during the first years after their discovery, i.e. from 1949 to 1960, until the beginning of construction of the Shrine of the Book. The second part will be devoted to the history of the exhibit of the scrolls at the Shrine of the Book from the early 60's until the early 70's.

The conclusion from such a survey is that many of the problems that arose could have been avoided if from the very beginning of the museological activity professionals in the field of preservation had been called to join with the archaeologists and the architects.

My hope is that this first historical chapter will serve the experts in the field of preservation in their treatment of the scrolls today.


A look back on the conservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Pnina Shor - Head, Artifacts Treatment and Conservation
Israel Antiquities Authority

The arid and constant climatic conditions in the Judean Desert caves facilitated the survival of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other organic materials found in that area. The removal of the Scrolls from the caves in which they were preserved for over 2000 years traumatized their environmental stability. Following their discovery the manuscripts, of both parchment and papyrus were brought to Jerusalem and for years handled in an inappropriate manner and uncontrolled storage conditions.

The inexperience of the early Scrolls scholars in considering preservation requirements, led to treatments that have proven over time unsuitable. Early efforts to join fragments involved the use of pressure sensitive tape (cellotape) that has since deteriorated, leaving on the Scrolls sticky residues and stains. The adhesive of the cellotape penetrated the skins and caused them to darken, often impairing the legibility of the Scroll's writing. Furthermore, the fragments were placed between glass plates causing condensation and damaging pressure.

A major effort to remove the adhesive and to rehouse the fragments began in the early 60's. It involves time consuming and painstaking processes which are still under way.


DNA analysis of ancient parchment

Scott R. Woodward, Brigham Young University

We have demonstrated in a number of different experiments that it is possible to recover DNA from archeological specimens, including parchment fragments. The parchment experiments have included three Ester scrolls of relative recent date (less than 150 years old), and several unidentified, un-inscribed fragments of parchment from the Dead Sea area (estimated to be at least 2000 years old. These studies also proved that it is possible to identify the species and in some cases the individual from which the parchment was prepared. We have proposed to identify DNA sequence signatures that are specific for the parchment used to produce the Dead Sea Scrolls. Comparisons of this signature with DNA sequence from archeological bones from ancient sites throughout the Dead Sea region will allow us to identify a geographical origin for the parchment used to produce the Dead Sea Scrolls. We will report here that mitcochondrial DNA from the parchment has been isolated, amplified by PCR and sequenced. Analysis has shown that most signature documents have a bovine-like sequence. Other Dead Sea Scroll fragments show sequence characteristic of Capra and Capra related species.