Tanya Treiger, a conservator at the Dead Sea scrolls laboratory, works on fragments of a Dead Sea scroll. Tanya Treiger, a conservator at the Dead Sea scrolls laboratory, works on fragments of a Dead Sea scroll. Tanya Treiger, a conservator at the Dead Sea Scrolls laboratory, works on new found fragments. (Photo: Gali Tibbon / AFP/Getty Images)

New Dead Sea Scroll fragments discovered in cave

With the writing so small, it's possible NASA could be called on to help decipher the text.

Tiny new fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls have been unearthed in Israel at the Cave of Skulls, part of a complex that also contains an archaeological area seemingly named by Indiana Jones: the Cave of Arrows and the Cave of Scrolls.

Teams from several institutions, along with hundreds of volunteers, are currently undertaking a massive and historic project to unearth previously lost items. It is the area's largest archaeological dig in the last half-century. "The goal of the national plan that we are advancing is to excavate and find all of the scrolls that remain in the caves, once and for all," said Israel Hasson, director-general of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Researchers are excavating Tzeelim Canyon, an area near Israel's Dead Sea.Researchers are excavating Tzeelim Canyon, an area near Israel's Dead Sea. (Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

The new fragments are being compared to those photographed by American archaeologist John Trever, a Yale alum, who was involved in the initial find back in the spring of 1948 in caves near the shores of Israel's Dead Sea. Written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, the documents are estimated to be at least 2,300 years old. The pages are made of papyrus, animal hides and other types of parchment. Bronze coins and other artifacts were also found in the caves.

Some of the new scraps are so small as to be illegible. Back in the 1990s, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory successfully used digital infrared technology and a multi-spectral imaging technique, adapted from its remote sensing and planetary probes, to reveal previously illegible text on fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. NASA released about a thousand of their digitized images in 2012. There is no word yet if the U.S.-based space agency will be called upon again to assist with the new find.

Scholars studying fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls shortly after their discovery in the mid-20th century.Scholars studying fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls shortly after their discovery in the mid-20th century. (Photo: Courtesy photo)

The Israel Antiquities Authority is also working to digitize the scrolls so researchers and the general public can have access to them. Earlier this year, computer scientists began a new project in which they uploaded the Dead Sea Scrolls to a special virtual workspace allowing scholars around the world to work simultaneously to catalog the images.

While parts of the scrolls have been exhibited at museums in the U.S. and around the world, there is a movement afoot to coalesce the majority of them at one central location. A 350,000-square-foot complex is currently being built in Jerusalem that will be home to 2 million ancient artifacts from Israel, including most of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered to date. The building will open in 2017 and will continue to add new Dead Sea Scroll fragments as they are found.

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Related Topics: Archaeology