They’ve been described as the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century, giving a rare insight into Biblical times.
But many of the Dead Sea Scrolls are now nothing more than tiny fragments of papyrus and parchment.
Now, a team of scientists are working on the world’s greatest jigsaw puzzle – piecing together the ancient manuscripts.
Up until recently, piecing together the texts would have been a prohibitively laborious process, but thanks to new technology, preservation of the documents is finally possible.
Each fragment, some just a few millimetres long, is being scanned in different wavelengths of light with different exposures using high-resolution imaging.
Other digital tools are also being developed to discover new ways of finding connections between the edges of the fragments.
“We have already imaged around 16,000 fragments using the very latest imaging technology but we still have several thousand more to do, says Dr Pnina Shor, the curator and director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at the Israel Antiquities Authority.
'Some are very small indeed, yet these very small fragments can be the most important as these are from texts that are still unknown.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered more than 60 years ago in seaside caves near an ancient settlement called Qumran, have been called the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century.
The ancient collection includes texts dating back some 2,000 years, making them the oldest known biblical manuscripts.
While the majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Hebrew, some fragments are written in Aramaic, which was spoken by many Jews between sixth century B.C. and 70 A.D.
It’s widely believed that a breakaway Jewish sect called the Essenes – thought to have occupied Qumran during the first centuries B.C. and A.D. – wrote all the parchment and papyrus scrolls.
One of the most fascinating texts is the Copper Scroll, listing gold and silver caches that form an ancient “treasure map”. It describes underground hiding spots throughout Israel that are said to contain riches.
To date, no treasure has ever been discovered.