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Dead Sea Scrolls’ DNA

November 14, 2006

DNA is helping to solve one of the greatest puzzles in human history.


DNA and the Dead Sea Scrolls. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been called the greatest jigsaw puzzle in human history. That’s because the 2,000-year-old Jewish religious manuscripts were discovered in about 40,000 pieces. For years, scholars have tried to match up the bits of animal-skin parchment, using their shapes, colors, and written content. But now, scientists are getting help from the skins’ DNA. Adolfo Roitman, the Dead Sea Scroll curator at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, explains.

ALDOLFO ROITMAN (Israel Museum, Jerusalem):
Once the DNA is recovered, in a way is to have in hands the ID of the parchment. Then we can compare if one fragment fits the other on the basis of the ID.

Roitman says DNA has also told scholars which kinds of animal skins were used for parchment, and may someday reveal where those animals—and hence the scrolls—came from. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.