The two original rolls of the Copper Scroll that were found at Qumran in Cave 3 proved almost impossible to unroll. Finally, they were sawed into 23 strips in Manchester, England, one in 1955 and the other in 1956. As the sawing progressed, at each turn the back of the scroll was carefully prepared by cleaning it and applying a coat of adhesive to hold the fragile remains in place. After cutting, the inner surfaces of each strip were also cleaned and then washed with a chemical solution to seal the surface.

Although this has since been acknowledged as the best job that could have been done at the time, the deterioration of the scroll was not arrested, as was highlighted in an unpublished study by Andrew Oddy in 1977.

After nearly 40 years the strips of the scroll were then entrusted to the Laboratoire EDF (Electricité de France) Valectra, which is at the heart of the EDF’s group of laboratories that research all aspects of nuclear power, including the study of metals. Between 1994 and 1996 a team of experts at EDF’s laboratory undertook the delicate task of stabilizing the 23 segments through a variety of processes using long-term stable materials and minimal intervention. The old adhesives were removed only where this would be unlikely to cause further damage or where the detail of certain letters was hidden. Wherever possible, breaks between the 23 segments and both the inner and outer surfaces were treated with Paraloid B72, an adhesive co-polymer of methyl acrylate and ethyl methacrylate that is used to repair metal and other porous materials such as wood. For each segment a new, specially molded polystyrene support was made; each segment was laid in the support, resting on a layer of polyethylene-reticulated cushioning to relieve the effects of shocks and vibration. At every stage in the process numerous X-rays and digital photographs were taken so that no information would be lost. In addition a plaster imprint was made of each segment to enable the production of flat replicas through electrolysis. The Copper Scroll is now stabilized for the next generation and a new epigraphic edition of the Scroll has been made possible.1

George J. Brooke is professor of Biblical criticism and exegisis at the University of Manchester, England.

Copper Scroll replica photo courtesy of EDF Valectra Labs, from the book Le Rouleau de Cuivre de la Grotte 3 de Qumrân (3Q15), to be published, BRILL ed., ISBN 13:9789004140301, Copyright Xavier Renauld.