Dead Sea Scrolls' DNA enlightens scholars

They're one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century,

And now genetic sampling of the Dead Sea Scrolls has tested understandings that the 2,000-year-old artefacts were the work of a fringe Jewish sect, and shed light on the drafting of scripture around the time of Christianity's birth.

Pnina Shor is from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"Up to the beginning of this research, we all thought that the majority, or, that the scrolls were written on goat skin. One of the first results of this amazing research, DNA research, is that we now know from the samples that were taken that the majority are written on sheep skin. So, it's logical that sheep skin and goat skin would be found in the desert, if any of these scrolls were written in the desert. But two results tell us that it's cowhide. So we have two fragments that turned out to be cowhide, which means that at least these two were not from the area, they came from elsewhere. Where they came from we still don't know but we do know that we can differentiate between them and they are from outside."

The collection of hundreds of manuscripts and thousands of fragments of ancient Jewish religious texts, were discovered in 1947 by local Bedouin in Qumran.

Many scholars believed the scrolls originated with the reclusive Essenes, who had broken away from the Jewish mainstream.

But some academics say the Qumran trove had various authors and may have been brought from Jerusalem for safekeeping.

The Israeli researchers say that two textually different copies of the Book of Jeremiah were brought to Qumran from the outside.

They say the findings indicate that the texts were subject to variation and interpretation.

Noam Mizrahi a biblical scholar from Tel Aviv University, says the research has has a major impact on his understanding.

"I have conducted my research on the Dead Sea Scrolls mainly on the basis of the content, the language, the scribal features of the text, namely everything that was inscribed on the parchment. This project made me re-appreciate the materiality of the Dead Sea scrolls, namely that the very material, the biological material of which the scrolls are made, is as telling and as informative as the content of the text. And this has changed dramatically my own personal understanding of the Dead Sea scrolls and I believe it will also inform many of my colleagues from now on."

The research may help safeguard against forgeries of the prized relics.