Artificial Intelligence: AI Reveals Two Near-Identical Hands Behind Dead Sea Scrolls

April 23, 2021 | Artificial Intelligence, News
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AI could identify that two scribes wrote two halves of the manuscript.

AI-powered paleography, or the study of old handwriting, by researchers at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, has revealed that two writers likely wrote separate halves of a manuscript of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (CTV News)

The Dead Sea Scrolls contain the oldest known manuscripts of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. The Scrolls date back to the third century B.C. and contain manuscripts written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

The Great Isaiah Scroll

After a laborious and painstaking procedure involving digitization, machine-reading, and statistical analysis, the researchers found that the two writers who wrote the separate halves of this manuscript had near-identical handwriting.

The two writers did not sign their work, leading to endless speculation over the decades on their identity.

Though studying writing attributes, or how some characters are formed, can yield clues for ascribing a manuscript to a particular scribe, the process is too cumbersome for the human eye.

“This scroll contains the letter aleph, or ‘a’, at least five thousand times. It is impossible to compare them all just by eye,” study co-author Lambert Schomaker, professor of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Faculty of Science and Engineering, explained in a press release.

But AI can sort this problem easily and quickly.

How they did it

The researchers trained an AI algorithm to identify the text separately from its papyrus or leather background.

They then analyzed the text and found that the writings broadly were clustered in two groups and that one group transitioned to another at roughly around the halfway point.

After that, the researchers were able to construct heat maps to show how different characters, as written by one or other of the scribes, appeared in the scroll.

“In this study, we found evidence for a very similar writing style shared by the two Great Isaiah Scroll scribes, which suggests a common training or origin,” study author Mladen Popović, professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism at the University of Groningen, said in a statement. “Our next step is to investigate other scrolls, where we may find different origins or training for the scribes.”

Related Story:  Now AI Could Unlock Secrets From 2,500-Year Old Iranian Tablets

Image Credit Wikimedia: Part of Dead Sea Scroll number 28a (1Q28a) from Qumran Cave 1      

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