Burnt offering

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IN 1970 archaeologists digging at Ein Gedi, an ancient settlement on the shores of what is now called the Dead Sea, dug up the ark of a synagogue that had stood on the site from about 800BC until it was destroyed by fire in around 600AD. Within was a trove of scrolls but sadly, though the ark had protected them from the worst of the blaze, they were badly scorched. They were, indeed, so damaged that any attempt to handle them simply made things worse. That left archaeologists with a cruel dilemma: attempt to read their discoveries, which would destroy them, or preserve them as found, but remain ignorant of what they said.

Technology, however, marches on. In a paper just published in Science Advances, a team led by William Seales, a computer scientist at the University of Kentucky, describe how they have managed to read one of the charred scrolls without having to open it—or, indeed, to touch it at all.

The first part of Dr Seales’s remote-reading method was to take an X-ray of the scroll—or, rather, multiple X-rays from different directions that could be combined by a…Continue reading
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