Scientists Crack the Cryptic Code of a 2000-Year-Old Dead Sea Scroll

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Decades after they were first discovered, the Dead Sea Scrolls continue to yield new information about centuries-old religious practices. As The Telegraph reports, Israeli researchers pieced together and translated more than 60 parchment fragments to reconstitute one of the last unread scrolls from the original cache, which was written between the 3rd century BCE and the 1st century CE.

Experts originally thought that the tattered parchment pieces—some smaller than one square centimeter—came from a number of different scrolls. But in 2017, scholars from Haifa University's Bible studies department began studying the snippets of text and realized they belonged to the same document.

According to the BBC, the newly deciphered scroll references a 364-day calendar that the writers followed. It also mentions no-longer-practiced festivals that marked the transition between seasons, and includes clarifying annotations made by a second writer or editor.

The text was written in code, researchers say, and the corrective notes helped them decipher the writings. The information in the text was well known when the scroll was composed, so the writer probably used the cryptic language to signal his elite status.

"This practice is also found in many places outside the Land of Israel, where leaders write in secret code even when discussing universally known matters, as a reflection of their status. The custom was intended to show that the author was familiar with the code, while others were not," researchers said in a statement.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves at the Qumran archaeological site in the West Bank, near the Dead Sea, between the late 1940s and the late 1950s. Fragments from more than 900 manuscripts were recovered, written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Among them were a selection of the Hebrew Bible's earliest-known writings and the oldest surviving version of the Ten Commandments.

Experts don't know for sure who wrote the scrolls, but one widely held theory is that a Jewish sect called the Essenes, which lived in the Judean desert near the Qumran caves, was responsible. We may learn more soon: A recent report in LiveScience recounts that archaeologists are currently excavating a newly discovered Qumran cave where a blank scroll was found in 2017. 

[h/t The Telegraph]

Advanced CT Scans Reveal Blood Vessels and Skin Layers in a Mummy's Hand

Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Mummies hold some intriguing secrets to their pasts, like the food they ate and the diseases they had when they were alive. Now scientists are using a tool originally designed for medicine to get an even deeper look at the clues mummified bodies carry with them into the present day, Gizmodo reports.

In a proof-of-concept study published in the journal Radiology, researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden detail how a new-and-improved CT scanning technique can be used to visualize the interior of mummies on a microscopic level. By creating detailed X-ray images, CT scans allow doctors to see inside their patients without invasive surgery. Archaeologists have been using this technology to study delicate ancient artifacts for years, but the level of detail that can be achieved this way—especially when it comes to looking at interior soft tissue—is limited.

The upgraded version of the tech, called phase-contrast CT scanning, measures the phase shift, or the change in the position of a light wave, that occurs when X-rays pass through solid objects. The images generated this way have a higher contrast level than conventional X-rays, which means they capture more detail.

Cross-section of mummy hand.
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Doctors have been using this 10-year-old technology to examine soft tissues like organs and veins in living patients, but it hadn't been used on a mummy until recently. Working with a mummified human right hand dating back to 400 BCE in Egypt, which they borrowed from the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, the researchers fired up a phase-contrast CT scanner. It produced images with a resolution of 6 to 9 microns, giving a clear picture of the different layers of skin, individual cells in the connective tissue, and the blood vessels in the nail bed—all without damaging the artifact. Previously, researchers looking to study these same tissues in mummies would have needed to use a scalpel.

As Ars Technica reports, a phase-contrast CT scanner is similar in cost to the conventional machine. The study authors hope their work will lead to phase-contrast CT scanning becoming just as common in archaeology as regular CT scanning, potentially creating new research opportunities in mummies that will be discovered in the future and even in artifacts that have already been examined.

[h/t Gizmodo]

A 2.63-Carat Diamond Was Unearthed by a Grandmother at an Arkansas State Park

iStock
iStock

Visitors to the Crater of Diamonds Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas clearly have an objective in mind: Excavate one of the diamonds lurking on or beneath the park's soil, the onetime site of a volcanic crater. If they do, it's theirs to keep.

Earlier this month, a 71-year-old grandmother from Colorado made the biggest discovery on park grounds of 2018: a 2.63-carat ice white diamond. And she did it in about 10 minutes.

The retiree, who asked media outlets not to identify her by name, visited Crater of Diamonds with her husband, son, and grandchildren. After briefly scraping away dirt, she saw the gem on the surface. The diamond was so large and clear—roughly the size of a pinto bean—that she assumed it was just a piece of glass. Further inspection by her family and park personnel revealed it was a diamond.

Park officials told press that employees frequently till the soil, which can loosen the gems and allow them to catch the reflection of the sun, making them easier to spot. Roughly 33,000 diamonds have been found by visitors since the park opened in 1972.

It's hard to know the exact value of the diamond. While there is a certain fluctuating value assigned to a carat, appraisers also look at three other "Cs": clarity, color, and cut. A two-carat diamond is often more than double the price of a one-carat diamond because the larger gems are more rare. But tourists have profited from their finds: In 2015, a visitor retrieved a 8.51-carat white diamond that was cut down to 4.6 carats by a jeweler and valued by the American Gem Society at $500,000.

[h/t WGN TV]

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