The Lunder Family Center for the Conservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The viewable Dead Sea Scrolls Conservation Center will be the only facility in the world to provide the safe, environmentally controlled housing and expert treatment for more than 15,000 Dead Sea Scrolls in the collections of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The new Lunder Family Center for the Conservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls will provide a triple service: caring for the collections, contributing to research, study and teaching at universities and academic institutions around the world and educating the public about the importance of the cultural heritage of our country.

Preserving and conserving the Dead Sea Scrolls is an extremely slow and painstaking process. Five experienced conservation experts are responsible for the delicate work of conserving the 2,000 year-old parchment and papyrus fragments. Unfortunately, the process of aging cannot be halted. We are trying to slow it down with as little intervention as possible, and preserve these cultural heritage treasures for future generations.

The peerless, state-of-the-art 1,800 sq. feet Dead Sea Scrolls Conservation Center will provide conservation and long term preservation to the Dead Sea Scrolls collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority. In addition, the Conservation Center will offer a rich, informative visitor experience to access, view and understand the process of conservation and preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

The new laboratories will provide comfortable work space for five IAA conservation experts as well as for the specialized equipment.  They  will be constructed with state-of-the-art materials and equipment, including highly sophisticated interior with special climate control mechanism and site specific HVAC system, floating floor and hanging ceiling, special lighting, fume exhaustion equipment, with all construction materials, finishes and furnishing materials selected for their low off gassing properties, work area for five full-time conservators, an area designated for visiting researchers, and more.

Through the creation of unique, innovative, custom – designed viewing bridges above the conservation laboratories, visitors will be allowed a rare opportunity to observe the intriguing process, adding to the educational experience. The Dead Sea Scrolls Conservation Center will become a destination for learning about the conservation science and methods through educational videos, public programs and outreach initiatives by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Conservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The constant, arid climate of the Dead Sea area, which is about 400 meters below sea level, was probably the major factor contributing to the preservation of documents through two millennia until the removal of the first scrolls from their hiding place in 1947 and their transfer to Jerusalem. Indeed, the drastic change in climatic conditions rendered them vulnerable to damage. Jerusalem, at about 800 meters above sea level, is of an extremely different climate from that of the Judean Desert.

The scrolls were at first unknowingly handled in inappropriate methods under an uncontrolled environment. Moreover, in the first years, adhesive tape used in joining fragments and covering cracks caused irreversible damage. The scrolls were moistened and put loosely between plates of glass and sealed with adhesive tape. The aging of the adhesives and the pressure of the glass caused the skins to darken – to the extent that some of the texts are no longer legible – and the edges to gelatinize.

In the 1970's, a team of conservators from the Israel Antiquities Authority began to treat some of the fragments: the adhesive tape and some of the stains were removed, the fragments were reinforced and the glass plates were replaced with cardboard. It became evident, however, that the degree of deterioration that had set in called for more urgent steps to be taken.

In 1991, a climate-controlled housing center and laboratory for the conservation and preservation of the scrolls were set up by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and four conservators were engaged in efforts to preserve the scrolls. The most time-consuming task remains the removal of the adhesive tape. Tape adhesive is loosened by water-based adhesives, and a dry poulticing material is used in the removal of the tape residues and stains. After the removal of the remains of the adhesive tape, oil stains are cleaned, and the back of the scroll is reinforced wherever necessary. This operation cannot be standardized and each of the thousands of extant fragments needs individual consideration. Together with conservators at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, a new housing system was devised. The fragments are sewn between two layers of polyester net stretched in acid-free mounts. These in turn are enclosed in a frame made of polycarbonate plates.

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