Scientists using American space technology have started a huge project to digitally photograph the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known version of the Hebrew Bible, and post it on the Internet for all to see, Israeli authorities said Wednesday.

High-tech cameras using infrared photography are being used to uncover sections of the 2,000-year-old scrolls that have faded over the centuries and become indecipherable, the Israeli Antiquities Authority said.

The project is expected to take about five years and the goal is to make the scrolls accessible to scientists and the general public, Antiquities Authority official Pnina Shor said.

A pilot project started Wednesday and when it is finished, it will be possible to determine how long it will take to digitize the thousands of fragments from about 900 separate documents, Shor said, estimating five years.

The American space connection came through Greg Bearman, who recently retired as principal scientist for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He offered the space-age imaging equipment.

Infrared technology was used to photograph all the findings in 1950, the Antiquities Authority said, but technology has advanced considerably since then.

The first scrolls were discovered by accident in 1947 by a young Bedouin shepherd who was chasing a runaway sheep. They were buried in a cave in Qumran, just above the Dead Sea — one of the most barren areas in the world.

Source: The Associated Press