Ink analysis and the Dead Sea Scrolls

THE WORDS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD
Photo courtesy of BAM
A scroll sample is loaded in a frame and ready for scanning by BESSY II, a micro X-ray fluorescence spectrometer at the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing in Berlin, Germany.

Ink analysis and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Ink on the page conveys the thoughts of the writer. But ink also contains clues that help scientists figure out who wrote the words and when they were written.

When analyzing scrolls, researchers can shine infrared or ultraviolet light on a scroll sample. Then, a machine called a micro X-ray fluorescence spectrometer records which wavelengths of light the ink absorbs. Since every chemical absorbs different wavelengths, scientists can figure out what exactly the ink is made of.

The make up of ancient ink varies from time to time and from place to place, so this analysis tells researchers when and where a scroll was made. Comparing different samples can tell them if various fragments have the same ink, and thus belong together.

The scanning doesn’t damage the scrolls. But it does reveal clues which help researchers unravel the mystery of the scroll’s origin.