Soil sample analysis

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Soil samples and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Don’t clean up that scroll too well. There just might be some good evidence in that dirt.

Among the things that scientists test when trying to determine where the scrolls were written are samples of dirt found with the scrolls. Just like snowflakes, no two soil samples are identical. Dirt that comes from sites just a few miles apart can be distinguished. The clay used to make items like scroll jars can serve as a guide to where the jars were made.

How can scientists do that? They expose small samples of soil to a process of nuclear activation, which measures different levels of radiation in the soil. Nuclear activation reveals the clay chemical composition, resulting in a “fingerprint” which researchers may use to match the soil to other samples. Armed with that information, scientists can then go out and gather soil samples from sites where scrolls may have been written and try to make connections. Such research has determined that most of the scroll jars were made from clays found near Jerusalem and Jericho. This suggests that raw clay or finished jars were imported to Qumran.

Photo by Grausel via Wikipedia Commons
Soil samples from items like pottery found in caves can help pinpoint where the Dead Sea Scrolls came from.