Dead Sea scrolls brought to life with digital archive upgrade that includes 10,000 new images
The War Scroll (Dead Sea Scroll)

Website includes 10,000 new images, more manuscript descriptions and translated content, and a faster search engine

In an extraordinary marriage between high-tech wizardry and ancient history, Israel's national antiques authority has launched an updated version of its digital library of the Dead Sea scrolls, showcasing thousands of high-quality photographs of one of the world's most spectacular archaeological finds.

The expanded online resource, which is accessible from personal computers and mobile phones, presents hundreds of scroll fragments imaged with a camera that was developed specifically for this purpose. Only five expert curators worldwide are authorised to physically handle the scrolls.

Among the scrolls is an early copy of the book of Deuteronomy, which includes the 10 commandments. The first of the scrolls were discovered in a remote cave at Qumran in the West Bank close to the Dead Sea in 1947 – a year before Israel's war of independence and the Palestinian "Nakba".

Housed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in a dedicated facility called the Shrine of the Book, the scrolls include part of the first chapter of the book of Genesis, dated to the first century BC, which describes the creation of the world; a number of copies of Psalms scrolls; tiny texts from the second temple period; letters and documents hidden by those fleeing Roman forces during the Bar Kochba revolt; and hundreds more ancient texts that shed light on biblical studies, the history of Judaism and the origins of Christianity.

The upgraded website includes 10,000 new multispectral images, extra manuscript descriptions, content translated into Russian and German in addition to the current languages, a faster search engine, and easy access from the site to the Facebook page and to Twitter and more, said the Israel Antiques Authority (IAA).

"The novelty is the quality of the pictures through a system that was created especially for the scrolls," said Pnina Shor, curator and head of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at the IAA. "These are the best possible images of thousands of fragments. They are exactly like the originals. The technology was invented for Nasa. It is a living site and a uniquely comprehensive one for documents this old."

By the early 1960s Bedouin treasure hunters and archaeologists had found the remains of hundreds of manuscripts made up of thousands of fragments in the Judean desert along the western shore of the Dead Sea. These fragile pieces of parchment and papyrus were preserved for two millennia by the hot, dry climate and the darkness of the caves.

The texts are written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Nabataean. The manuscripts have been dated to various periods between 408 BC and 318 AD.

"The scrolls provide an unprecedented picture of the diverse religious beliefs of ancient Judaism, and of daily life during the turbulent Second Temple period when Jesus lived and preached, on biblical studies, the history of Judaism and the origins of Christianity," says the IAA website. © Guardian News and Media 2014