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Dead Sea Scrolls are coming — in 2010

From the real (dead and plasticized) human bodies of BodyWorlds to the upcoming sunken treasures of the Titanic, the special exhibits at the Science Museum of Minnesota in downtown St. Paul seem to stretch the bounds of traditional science museum fare. A Star Wars exhibit; CSI, the science of crime; the Vikings (Scandinavian explorers, not Central Division leaders). Not your typical science-class topics.

Now the museum is dredging up more artifacts, not from the bottom of the sea but from caves of the Judean desert: the Dead Sea Scrolls. They’re ancient artifacts and will be even older by the time we see them: They’re scheduled to be displayed in St. Paul from April to August 2010.

The scrolls include fragments of text, the earliest written record of the Hebrew Bible, dating from about 150 B.C. to 70 A.D., and represent arguably one of the major archaeological finds of all time. The first were found in 1947.

Parts of the overall exhibit occasionally are displayed around the world, with strict security and pampered care for the artifacts. The Science Museum plans to raise about $5 million to create an exhibit and transport the scrolls from Israel. (Each scroll is transported by a courier, one scroll per courier taking separate flights.) The funding also will pay for related lectures and community events. Museum officials are confident they can raise the money, said Mike Day, a senior museum vice president. If they don’t get it all, “Our enhancement and programs might not be as robust as we’d hoped.”

Talks with the Israel Antiquities Authority have been ongoing for three years. Two representatives of the IAA came to St. Paul in September 2006 to examine the museum’s building and security. Last month, a team from the museum went to Israel to work out details.

Museum President Eric Jolly will be part of the Gov. Tim Pawleny’s state trade mission to Israel this month. Jolly will meet with the Israel Antiquities Authority to work out more details of the coming exhibit. Museum officials didn’t plan to announce the exhibit until later, but a Star Tribune reporter noticed Jolly’s plan in a trade-mission document posted on the web, and the scrolls were out of the jar, so to speak.

As for the wide range of Science Museum projects, Day said they are lucky to have a state of the art building that can handle nearly any type of exhibit.

“Part of our mandate says that science is an essential literacy, and we strive to provide a platform to get people engage in science, thanks to the opportunity to offer broad and deep programs,” he said. “As our mission says: ‘Turn on the science.’ ”

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