When a 1,500-year-old scroll was found in the ashes of an ancient synagogue on the shores of the Dead Sea just south of Jerusalem in 1970, it was so charred it resembled a piece of charcoal and was impossible to read or preserve. But now, thanks to the latest 3D scanning and imaging tech—typically used for medical purposes—scientists say they've been able to "virtually unroll" the 2.75-inch scroll and read it, reports AFP. So what's written on the ancient, charred remains? The first eight verses of Leviticus in the Old Testament, which present the rules of ritual sacrifice. The Jewish village of Ein Gedi, known as the site where King David fled to escape King Saul, had "completely burnt to the ground," says the archaeologist who found the scroll nearly 50 years ago.
"After the Dead Sea Scrolls, this is the most significant find of a written bible," Pnina Shor, curator and director of the Israel Antiquities Authority's Dead Sea Scrolls Project, tells LiveScience. Since its discovery, the Ein Gedi scroll has been stored alongside the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea scrolls in the IAA's climate-controlled vault, until Merkel Technologies offered up its micro-CT scanner last year and the resulting images were sent to the University of Kentucky, which developed the software to read it. "This discovery absolutely astonished us; we were certain it was just a shot in the dark but decided to try and scan the burnt scroll anyway," says Shor. Scientists say there's more text to decipher, but it may be too much of a "technical challenge" to ever read it all. (More Dead Sea scrolls are still being discovered.)