The Museum of the Bible in Washington once prized a set of some of the most coveted texts on Earth: fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, an ancient version of the Hebrew Bible.

Not anymore: Recent research revealed all 16 of the museum’s fragments are fakes.

A scientific analysis conducted by Art Fraud Insights revealed that the supposedly ancient texts were actually forged in modern times.

It’s a blow for collectors who had rejoiced when a group of about 70 items became available to antiquities dealers after 2002. Dealers, scholars and buyers alike all thought they were part of the historic Dead Sea Scrolls, whose authenticity has not been challenged by the new findings.

The news, reported by Michael Greshko of National Geographic, is shaking up the antiquities field. It’s also a fascinating tale of scientific detective work.

Investigators used a variety of scientific tools to suss out the forgery, such as multispectral imaging where materials are photographed under different wavelengths of light, high-magnification microscopes and a chemical analysis that revealed the leather was treated with techniques that came along after the real scrolls.

“Careful microscopic analysis showed that the fragments’ scripture was painted onto already ancient leather,” Greshko writes. “On many of the pieces, suspiciously shiny ink pools in cracks and waterfalls off of torn edges that wouldn’t have been present when the leather was new. On others, the forgers’ brushstrokes clearly overlie the ancient leather’s bumpy mineral crust.”

The Museum of the Bible commissioned the six-month-long investigation and says the information it uncovered could be used to detect other forgeries. The museum has been at the center of other controversies. Critics have cast doubt on its scholarly methods and its major funder, the conservative Christian family behind Hobby Lobby. In 2018, objects Hobby Lobby acquired for the museum were returned to Iraq by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the wake of a smuggling scandal.

Who’s behind the forgery? More investigations are yet to come. Meanwhile, Greshko’s article offers a fascinating, arts-meets-science look into the lie behind a set of seemingly thrilling documents. Read the story at