The “Human Sanctuary” movie a gateway to encyclopedic knowledge on the Dead Sea Scrolls

Sorin Hermon, Cyprus

The Qumran community of the Dead Sea, Israel, dating back to more than 2,000 years ago, was responsible for the creation of one of the most spectacular remains of World Heritage, namely the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, now stored and exhibited at the Israel Museum, in a dedicated wing. A movie describing the life of this community, titled “A Human Sanctuary”, welcomes the visitors at the wing and introduces them to the exhibition. Visitors can thus get a glimpse to the Qumran community’s life, the movie offering a “gateway to the past” by revealing aspects of daily life, beliefs and rituals of its members.The film focuses on the life of two young members of the community, as well as of a young priest from Jerusalem Temple, covering various aspects of the communal life and everyday activities, whose understanding is important for social, historical and Second Temple Judaism studies. Even though the film is short, it contains large amount of complex information that needs to be explained in more details. The paper describes an innovative approach to access knowledge on the Dead Sea Scrolls, using  scenes from the movie as gateways to scientific information. The project is supported by a grant from the Dorot Foundation, aiming at creating a web based interactive encyclopedia of historical knowledge related to the religion and the Bible studies, based on the movie described above and used as a central information point and combined with the set of annotations, to describe and explain the life of the Qumran community. These explanation tools should help bring the content of the movie closer to the public and will help visitors to better understand the importance of the Scrolls and the impact they have on our time. The application provides different means of (non) linear interaction with the content, which are designed with the idea of helping users explore and understand available information.

Video is a media format that is used in cultural heritage for a long time. It is used to present stories, ideas or knowledge about certain topics by combining visual audio and textual information. By presenting the information in the form of the story big amount of information can be presented in short time and with little or no effort from the user side. However there are some drawbacks of such an approach. Information presented in the video can only be accessed in linear manner. Users have no freedom to access and explore the information based on their goals and needs. This can especially be problematic when the presented information is complex. In order to present complex ideas and information users should have freedom in a way information is accessed and used.


An initial step of the project was to correctly annotate the video. For this purpose we developed a data repository that was used to store relevant information and attach it to the video, so that this information can later be used in the application itself. The process of annotation video was not a trivial one because of the complexity and informational richness of the video. Each scene in the video needed to be thoroughly described and elaborated, since it is often related to more than one topic. Annotations include both text documents and images of various objects relevant to the story of the film. Textual annotations are organized into the hierarchical topics structure. After the video was annotated and all the related information stored in the repository, we moved on to developing tools for exploring the content. These tools include interactive video player, that enables users to explore the annotation while watching the film and interactive topic explorer that enables users to explore different subjects covered in the video by playing the relevant segments, reading the texts, or browsing the set of images.

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