Tania Treiger pulls on her tight blue gloves and picks up her tweezers, preparing for the extraordinary job she has been hired to do. She is one of only five conservators in the entire world allowed to handle one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century. Treiger’s job is to help conserve and record the more than 2,000-year-old pieces of parchment that make up Dead Sea Scrolls.

Many of the fragments are smaller than a bottle cap, and Treiger is taking painstaking measures to preserve the tiny pieces of history by laying each one under a camera to be photographed. The work she and many others are doing now is making it possible for anyone around the world with access to the Internet to see and study the scrolls.

The scrolls were found by Muhammad Ahmed al-Hamed, a Bedouin shepherd, in Khirbet Qumran in caves near the Dead Sea 65 years ago in what was then the British Mandate Palestine, now the West Bank. When pieced together, the scrolls reveal some of the holiest and well-known texts of the world. In the delicate pieces of ancient parchment you can see the text of the Ten Commandments, the first chapter of Genesis, Psalms and many of the writings that make up the Bible as well as other non-biblical books. Nearly 900 manuscripts are now online because of a partnership between the Israel Antiquities Authority and Google.

Pnina Shor, who heads the Dead Sea Scrolls project, says she hatched the idea five years ago.  “These are manuscripts written 2,000 years ago, at the time when both Judaism and Christianity were formalizing as we know them today,” Shor said.

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