Tue. Sep 17th, 2019

The book that retained its brightness for 2,000 years at the bottom of a cave | Science

The Temple Roll, More than eight meters long and written in Hebrew in 250 BC, it has withstood more than 2,000 years of life in a cave. The 18 sheets Parchment, divided into layers, stand out mainly for its ivory whiteness and its thickness of not even 0.1 millimeters. The work was one of the manuscripts found in the Dead Sea region last century and the one that was best preserved. The main keys about its preservation what does it offer a study of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) published this Friday in Science Advances They are neither more nor less than salt and desert.

The caves of Qumrán (West Bank).

The caves of Qumrán (West Bank). Getty

The Dead Sea Manuscripts, which scholars define as one of the greatest treasures of cultural heritage, were preserved among limestone in eleven caves of Qumran (valley of the Judean desert in the West Bank) that kept them protected from moisture. The work remained in a dry environment, locked in a jar. In addition, so that no looter found those precious books, the members of the Jewish community hid them under rubble and guano (substance formed by the droppings of birds and bats).

The study of the composition by MIT, based on X-rays and spectroscopy, has shown that The Temple Roll It was produced differently than the others. Admir Masic, one of the research authors and professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, considers the work as perfection: “It was the most incredible scroll. They managed to create a perfect, very bright support. It was the prettiest of all there was. "The manuscript was made with animal skin and on top of that layer called collagen (organic), another inorganic was deposited to preserve the ink. The latter gives off traces of sodium in high concentrations, together to calcium and sulfur. That high and surprising presence of minerals (which does not come from the environment) has allowed, according to the researchers, to maintain the brightness of the parchment and the legibility of the writing. The professor assumes that the Jewish community was unaware of the properties of these substances and that he was lucky. "But it is clear that we would have to learn from them," he adds.

The preparation of the manuscripts consisted of removing hairs and grease by immersing the skin in a solution of lime. Other times, hair removal involved an enzymatic treatment by applying fermented grains and tannin (organic substance that serves to transform raw skin into leather). Once laid out to the maximum in a dry and clean frame, the fabric was rubbed with salt. “The production of this type of support was very expensive. At that time, cattle were the most valuable and The Temple Roll, for example, it is made with the skin of between 10 and 15 sheep, "says Masic.

"The Temple Roll it is made with the skin of between 10 and 15 sheep "

But, however bright and "incredible" it may be, The Temple Roll It has also shown vulnerability throughout its existence. “Salt is very dangerous and we know it. We can design better strategies and avoid the risks of deterioration due to humidity. Travel must be avoided. The work needs stability, ”explains the expert. In 1956, when leaving its hiding place dry and safe, the presence of water increased in the organic layer of the book and accelerated its deterioration. The Bedouins were the first to find the work and sold it to an antique dealer. This merchant exchanged his original closure for cellophane and confined it in a shoebox under the floor of his house. Wanting to unwind the tissue again and again after its discovery, the large manuscript eight meters long was fragmented. When the researchers agreed to it, the curious and the humidity had already damaged the tissue too much, according to the study. Faced with the destruction, the restorers interrupted the wear process thanks to a short freeze. Today, the pieces of the work remain stable and exposed behind a glass in the Sanctuary of the Book, a wing of the Israel Museum of Jerusalem.

For Admir Masic it is clear that the modern era must be inspired by this technique to, first of all, detect false artistic works. "It is very difficult to create the same product. It is an artistic work whose composition nobody knows," explains the expert. The second advance suggested by this discovery is to transfer the past method to the current construction. “For example, the Romans were the best building buildings. Therefore, the technology of antiquity can optimize our architecture so that it lives 2,000 years and more ”, concludes the professor.

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