The Dead Sea Scrolls and Cuban Jewellery

The Naked Scientists spoke to Chelsea Wald and Bob Hirshon from AAAS, the Science Society
05 November 2006

Interview with 

Chelsea Wald and Bob Hirshon from AAAS, the Science Society


Bob - First Chelsea will tell us the science of one of the most famous archaeological finds of all time - the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Chelsea - The Dead Sea Scrolls have been called the greatest jigsaw puzzle in human history, because the 2000 year old Jewish religious scripts were found in about 40 000 pieces. For years scholars have tried to fit the pieces of animal parchment by matching their shapes, colours and written contents. Now scientists are getting help from the skin's DNA. Aldolfo Roitman the Dead Sea Scroll curator at the Israel museum in Jerusalem explains how it works.

Aldolfo - Once the DNA is recovered, the idea is to find the ID of the parchment so we can then see if the fragment fits with any of the others with the same ID.

Chelsea - Roitman also says that DNA will tell you what kind of animal the parchment came from. This is important because some animals were considered pure and used for holy manuscripts and others profane wouldn't have been used in holy places. They are also trying to match the manuscripts to some animal bones they have found which may solve the long standing mystery of where the scrolls were made.

Bob - At a 500 year old Cuban burial ground local archaeologists and their colleagues from UCL in London have found surprisingly opulent jewellery made from surprisingly humble materials, they were brass shoelace tags called aglets, which were traded with local people for gold. But field director Jago Cooper explains that back then gold in Cuba was abundant and not very valuable, instead the social elite decked themselves with a copper based alloy called guanin.

Jago - And when the Europeans turned up the brass objects then had with them were very similar to guanin and represented a high social status.

Bob - Caught off guard the Europeans traded whatever brass trinkets they had to hand or in this case on foot.

Chelsea - Thanks, Bob. Next week we'll talk about the Sun - Earth connection and its effect on some GPS receivers as well as the rise and fall of species. Until then, I'm Chelsea Wald.

Bob - And I'm Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, The Science Society. Back to you, Naked Scientists…


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