Researchers say AI has for the first time shown that two scribes wrote a part of the mysterious ancient Dead Sea Scrolls.
Tests were carried out on the longest text, known as the Great Isaiah Scroll.
It was found that probably two unknown individuals had copied down the words using near-identical handwriting.
The scrolls, which include the oldest known version of the Bible, are a source of fascination since their discovery some 70 years ago.
The first sets were found by a Bedouin during a cave at Qumran near the Dead Sea in what’s now the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
They contain manuscripts, mostly written in Hebrew also as Aramaic and Greek, and are believed so far from about the Third Century BC.
The Isaiah Scroll is one among some 950 different texts discovered within the 1940s and 50s. It is unique among the scrolls therein its 54 columns are divided into halves, written in an almost uniform style.
Researchers at the University of Groningen within the Netherlands examined the Isaiah scroll using “cutting edge” pattern recognition and AI. They analyzed one Hebrew letter, aleph, which appears quite 5,000 times within the scroll.
In a paper published by scholars Mladen Popovic, Maruf Dhali, and Lambert Schomaker, they said that they had “succeeded at extracting the traditional ink traces as they seem on digital images”.
“The ancient ink traces relate to an individual’s muscle movement and are person-specific,” they said, employing a technique that helped produce evidence that quite one scribe was involved.
“The likely scenario is one of two different scribes working closely together and trying to stay an equivalent sort of writing yet revealing themselves, their individuality.”
The researchers said the similarity in handwriting suggested the scribes could have undergone the same training in a school or family, such as “a father having taught a son to write”.
They said the scribes’ ability to “mimic” the opposite was so good that so far modern scholars had not been ready to distinguish between them.