News archive 2007
Digitising the Dead Sea Scrolls13 Nov 2007, PR 182/07
Simon Tanner of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King's College London is leading a team which is to digitise the Dead Sea Scrolls which were discovered 60 years ago.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is considered as one of the greatest manuscript finds ever. The scrolls were written or copied in the Land of Israel between 250 BCE and 68 CE, and were rediscovered in 1947 in the Judean Desert.
The Scrolls represent the oldest written record of the Old Testament, and contain the earliest copies of every book of the Bible, except the Book of Esther. Thanks to these remarkable finds, our knowledge of the origins of Judaism and early Christianity has been greatly enriched.
Work on the unpublished texts, consisting of thousands of fragments, was monopolized for 35 years by a group of ten distinguished scholars. Inevitably, the limited size of the team prevented the speedy publication of the documents. In the early 1990s steps were taken by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to reorganize the publication efforts, and the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls in their entirety was completed in 2001.
The conservation, preservation and documentation of the Dead Sea Scrolls have concerned both scholars and conservators ever since their discovery. The removal of the fragile scrolls from the caves in which they had been preserved for over 2,000 years interrupted the environmental stability that had ensured their preservation for so long. The task of conservation and preservation of the scrolls continues to be an ongoing project due to their extreme brittleness.
Since the more than 15,000 Scroll fragments were photographed only once, in the 1950s, the IAA has convened an international committee of experts, led by Simon Tanner, to digitise the Scrolls for the web.
Simon Tanner comments: ‘I have worked on more than 450 digitisation projects and the Dead Sea Scrolls is the most intriguing, and amongst the most technically challenging, that I have faced. King's College London is very experienced in delivering ancient writings on the web to exacting research standards and this means our collaboration with the Israeli Antiquities Authority starts from a firm foundation of scholarly excellence. Digitising the Scrolls will enable new research insights to be gained and also bring one of the great treasures of the world out of the museum and archive and into the front rooms of anyone who wants to see them.'
Other members of the team include Professor Ya'acov Choueka – Bar Ilan University, The Friedberg Genizah Project; Dr Greg Bearman – Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA; Prof. Ferruccio Petrucci – Image Spectroscopy, University of Ferrara; Orly Simon – Head, IT Department, Jewish National & University Library, Jerusalem.
Notes to editors
Simon Tanner is Director of King's Digital Consultancy Services (KDCS) at King's College London. He works with the culture and heritage sectors, libraries and museums, helping to create and manage digital resources. KDCS provides consultancy, research and training for the information and digital domain. He is also co-Director of the Desmond Tutu Digital Archive project. KDCS is based in the Centre for Computing in the Humanities which fosters awareness, understanding and skill in the scholarly applications of computing.
King's College London
King's College London is the fourth oldest university in England with more than 13,700 undergraduates and nearly 5,600 graduate students in nine schools of study based at five London campuses. It is a member of the Russell Group: a coalition of the UK's major research-based universities. The College has had 24 of its subject-areas awarded the highest rating of 5* and 5 for research quality, demonstrating excellence at an international level, and it has recently received an excellent result in its audit by the Quality Assurance Agency.
King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, international relations, medicine, nursing and the sciences, and has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe and is home to five Medical Research Council Centres – more than any other university.
King's is in the top group of UK universities for research earnings, with income from grants and contracts of more than £114 million, and has an annual income of more than £369 million.
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