Danish and German researchers unfold secrets of the past via digital imaging: Center leader Rubina Raja publishes in Nature Scientific Reports

Danish and German researchers from the Universities of Aarhus and Bochum, who since 2011 have been working in the famous Decapolis city, Jerash in Jordan have just published a spectacular find in Nature Scientific Reports.

The scroll after removal from container

In 2014 during excavation of an Early Islamic building they found a small metal case with a thin complexly folded metal plate inside. The metal sheet turned out to be silver mixed with gold and carry writing.

See abstract from Nature Scientific Reports


CT image of the scroll

Such amulets were well-known in Antiquity and served as magical protection. This find, however, was impossible to unfold without destroying it. The danger was therefore that the sheet would never be read. Therefore, the scroll, after it had been removed from the metal case and conserved, was computer tomographed.


Secrets of the past are unfolded via digital imaging

Thereafter it was through the training of a philologist possible to digitally unfold the silver sheet with a technique which until now only had been applied to uncomplex folded metal sheets or to papyri, where the technique differs greatly. The results are stunning. 5 lines 9-17The small silver sheet (4 cm by 10 cm) turned out to carry 17 lines of pseudo-Arabic script.

Although the script cannot be read since it is pseudo, it gives us a unique insight into the continuation of Semitic and Greco-Roman magic traditions well into the early Islamic period. The case of the non-destructive unfolding of the scroll shows in which ways the potential for understanding cultural phenomena through small contextualised objects can be unleashed when archaeological methods, philological expertise, natural science methods and digital imaging are combined.

”Digital imaging allows us to gain insight into the contemporary secrets of the magical texts which otherwise were not meant to be seen again after they had been folded and placed in a container. In this case, it turned out that the text was written in pseudo-Arabic, that is, it was written with Arabic letters shaped nicely as words which actually make no sense.  This phenomenon is well known in antiquity – one could write incantations and spells in a secret or unintelligible language. Dr. Rubina RajaAssociate professorSection for Classical ArchaeologyAnother explanation is that the “magician” who produced the scroll did not actually speak Arabic, but rather produced one for an Arabic-speaking person. This is a good example of the passing down and continuation of cultural traditions in the early Islamic period, which stemmed from a Greco-Roman and Semitic culture sphere” says professor Rubina Raja, center leader at UrbNet and main author of the article.