manuscript lab

Provenance Studies

Case Study: Dead Sea Scrolls

Parchment preparation involves handling with water. After the drying and finishing stages, parchment has a homogeneous distribution of the elements that were present as impurities in the water. Fresh water from the shore region of the Dead Sea has a very specific composition similar to that of the Dead Sea itself, with a strikingly lower ratio of chlorine to bromine than in any other water source in the country. This composition has not changed significantly since the first measurements by Gmelin in 1827. Based on the chemical analysis of the aquifer and of the water sources in the area of ancient Israel conducted in the last 70 years, we can safely assume that in Antiquity, too, the composition of the waters of the shore area differed greatly from that of the rest of the country. We have proposed to trace the production location of the Dead Sea Scrolls’ writing surfaces by measuring the characteristic ratio of chlorine to bromine (Rabin 2012).

The weight ratios of chlorine and bromine (Cl/Br) presented in the graphic are arranged in accordance with the find sites of the fragments studied. At first glance, the distribution of the Cl/Br values seems to correlate with the find sites, raising the question whether the composition of the parchment could be considerably influenced by their long sojourn in the vicinity of the Dead Sea. However, the analysis of the results leads to the conclusion that they indicate the location of the parchment’s production, instead.