But this all changed recently after advanced imaging technology originally developed for NASA was brought in to help unravel the mystery behind those unreadable fragments.
A statement from the Israel Antiquities Authority said: "As part of the project each of the thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls is imaged in order to monitor its physical condition and make the best possible images available to the public". The thousands of fragments from thousands of different manuscripts, most written in Hebrew, were organized as they were collected, but numerous parchment and papyrus scraps were indecipherable and were piled into a cigar box where they've been hiding for the last seven decades.
The "hidden" letters were found by Oren Ableman at the Israel Antiquities Authority, scanning thousands of tiny fragments, many of which had not previously been analysed.
The scrolls, one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, were found in the 1950s in caves above the Dead Sea. The imaging technique resulted in the discovery of new letters and words and may even indicate the existence of additional manuscripts.
The authority said the newly deciphered texts "provide new insights" to archaeologists studying the scrolls.
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In total, more than 1,000 ancient manuscripts have been discovered from 11 different caves. Still, due to the fragmentary nature of the evidence, these reconstructions are not certain, though they are considered highly likely.
One of the fragments could not be identified as belonging to any known manuscripts, and could form part of a previously undiscovered paleo-Hebrew text.
New fragments were discovered and identified from the Books of Devarim and Vayikra belonging to scrolls that scholars were already familiar with.
"What was exciting about this particular fragment is that I could tell that the handwriting was not identical to other fragments of this type of script.That leads me to believe we are dealing with a manuscript that we didn't know about".