The oldest Buddhist texts in the world are crumbly, prone to flaking into pieces at any time. Even conservators can't touch them with their bare hands.
Before they were found, the oldest manuscripts that scholars could study — texts from Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand — were only a few hundred years old and often damaged by the tropical climate.
Mark Allon, one of 20 people in the world who can read the scrolls' ancient language, says in comparison, the crumbling birch bark artefacts take researchers "way, way back".
"It's taking us very close, closer to the Buddha," he says.
Dr Allon leads the team at the University of Sydney that is digitising some of the 2,000-year-old manuscripts, which have only recently been unfurled.
Through his work, the public will soon be able to see them online and understand their ancient teachings.