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The Shroud in colour

The Shroud in colour

A piece of linen cloth, 4.34 m long and 1.09 m wide, kept in the cathedral at Turin (Italy), has been claimed as the burial shroud of the Jewish prophet Jesus of Nazareth, in whose name the Christian religion was founded. It is thus venerated as a ‘relic’: an object with special properties of sanctity derived from its (alleged) connection with someone considered especially holy. In the case of an object supposedly associated with the death and resurrection of a person claimed by adherents of the Christian superstition to be a third part of their god, this makes it about as holy as anything could possibly be.

It has been claimed that the Shroud is “the most intensely studied artefact in human history”, which may be a bit of an exaggeration, but which is probably not far from the truth. The modern interest in it, which began this intense scrutiny of evidence for its authenticity, began in 1898, when Secondo Pia, a Turinese lawyer and keen photographer obtained permission to photograph the cloth during its exposition that year. As he developed his plate, he became aware of a curious phenomenon: the indistinct, yellowish markings on the cloth now appeared more definite and, curiously, the negative plate more closely resembled a positive portrait photograph than a negative. To Pia, this was clear proof that the cloth could not have been a forgery, for what forger could have anticipated the invention of photography and created a negative? Pia’s discovery seemed to confirm a miraculous origin for the image on the cloth and there the matter rested for many years, the credulous and faithful seeing it as a genuine relic of the resurrection of Jesus, the sceptical regarding it as a skilful medieval forgery.

Following the publication of a couple of posts at the Shroud of Turin Blog, accusing us of doing Bad Archaeology, I’ve largely rewritten this page. It is always useful to receive the sort of criticism found on the blog: it is written by people who know the subject in far greater detail than I will ever do and it challenges ideas that I have derived from other sources. It forces me to look more critically at the evidence.

Historical data

The first time we hear of the Shroud is in 1389×90, when Pierre d’Arcis (or d’Arcy, Bishop Pierre II of Troyes 1377-1395) wrote a letter to Pope Clement VII (1342-1394, elected Pope at Avignon in 1378, in opposition to Pope Urban VI). He objected to an exposition of the shroud in the collegiate church at Lirey on the grounds that it was being done by a landowner, who “falsely and deceitfully, being consumed with the passion of avarice, and not from any motive of devotion but only of gain, procured for his church a certain cloth cunningly painted, upon which by a clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man, that is to say, the back and the front, he falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Saviour Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb and upon which the whole likeness of the Saviour had remained thus impressed together with the wounds which He bore”. He pointed out that in view of the lack any earlier mention of a shroud bearing an image of Jesus, “it was quite unlikely that the Holy Evangelists would have omitted to record an imprint on Christ’s burial linens, or that the fact should have remained hidden until the present time”.

Moreover, he complained that this was not the first such exposition at Lirey, one having been made some years earlier, when Geoffroi I de Charney had deposited it in the collegiate church built in 1353. This happened around 34 years before Pierre II wrote his letter, so around 1355×6 (Geoffroi I de Charney died in the latter year). His letter claims that his predecessor as Bishop, Henri de Poitiers (Bishop of Troyes 1353-1370), had made enquiries about the origin of the cloth and found that “after diligent inquiry and examination, he discovered how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed”. This early exposition is attested archaeologically in the form of a pilgrim badge found in the River Seine at Paris, depicting the Shroud accompanied by the arms of Geoffroi I de Charney and of Jeanne de Vergy, his second wife.

In the meantime, Geoffroi II de Charney had written directly to the Pope in Avignon (whose uncle had married Geoffroi’s stepmother Jeanne) asking for permission to show the family’s shroud. Presumably, this was because of Bishop Henri de Poitiers’s negative conclusions about its authenticity. Clement VII issued four Bulls (dated 6 January 1390) permitting the exposition of the Shroud, with the caveat that it was not to passed off as the “True Shroud”, suggesting that he knew of the former Bishop’s inquiries. This took place before Bishop Pierre II’s letter had even been sent, rather undermining his authority. Even so, after receiving Bishop Pierre II’s letter, the Pope responded to Geoffroi II confirming permission to exhibit, to Bishop Pierre commanding him to keep “perpetual silence” about his discoveries under threat of excommunication and to other ecclesiastics in the diocese asking them to ensure that his instructions were followed.

The subsequent history of the Lirey Shroud is well documented. It was entrusted in 1418 to Humbert de Villersexel (1385-1437, Count de la Roche), who had married Marguerite de Charnay in that year. It was initially kept in his Château at Montfort and was later taken to Saint-Hippolyte; although the canons of Lirey attempted to retrieve the Shroud after Humbert’s death, Marguerite would not give it up and travelled around France with it. In 1452, Marguerite de Charnay presented it to Anne de Lusignan (1418-1462), wife of Louis (or Ludovico, Duke of Savoy 1440-1465), in exchange for the Château of Varambon.

The Shroud was kept in the Savoie family’s Château at Chambéry for a while until a decision was made in 1471 to display it in cities across Europe.  It was damaged by a fire in 1532, when the silver reliquary in which it was stored began to melt, a droplet of silver burning a hole through the cloth. The holes were subsequently repaired with patches that were removed in 2002. It remained the property of the Duchy of Savoy until it was bequeathed to the See of St Peter in 1983.

The Lirey cloth was one of three in France alone that were claimed to be the Shroud of Jesus. An example in Compiègne is first attested in 877, while another at Cadouin was obtained in Antioch in 1098. Neither of these shrouds bore images and the Cadouin example was shown in 1935 to be of eleventh-century date. Forty other shrouds are attested in Europe alone. Clearly, the Shroud of Turin is just one of many claimants.

Scientific studies

Two scientific studies of the cloth were made in the 1970s, one in 1973 and one in 1978. The first study remains less well known than the second, as its findings were published only in Italian. It was the outcome of a commission set up in 1969 by Cardinal Pellegrino, specifically charged to examine the cloth’s condition, take new photographs and to make recommendations on its conservation. The results were announced by the Centro Internazionale di Sindonologia (International Centre of Sindonology) in Turin.

The best known result of these tests was the report on pollen by Max Frei, who claimed to have identified among 49 different species of pollen spores, 13 that were “very characteristic of or exclusive to the Negev and Dead Sea area” and 20 others suggestive of Anatolia (Edessa and Istanbul, specifically). However, there were problems. Olive pollen ought to dominate a cloth from Palestine, yet none was identified. Max Frei’s credibility suffered a serious blow when, as a self-proclaimed handwriting expert, he announced that the “Hitler diaries” were genuine and when it was revealed that a fellow Swiss police forensic scientist revealed that Frei had been found guilty and censured by his superiors on several occasions for the over-enthusiastic interpretation of samples.

The weave of the Turin Shroud

The weave of the Turin Shroud

On the other hand, Gilbert Raes’s analysis of the textile concluded that its hand-spun twill (three-to-one herringbone) weave was common at many different periods but not in Palestine or Egypt in the first century CE, where tabby (plain) weave was usual, as seen on Egyptian mummy cloths and the wrappings of some of the Dead Sea scrolls. A few cotton fibres of the species Gossypum herbaceum were also present: cotton was first imported into Europe during the twelfth century CE but was used in the Near East during the time of Jesus, so their presence was inconclusive. However, as their presence was probably due to the weaving being done on a loom previously used for weaving cotton cloth, it is unlikely to have occurred in an orthodox Jewish context, where separate looms would be required. Thread samples from both ‘body’ and ‘blood’ parts of the image were removed and examined for traces of pigment, which proved negative in both cases. Tests for blood residue were also negative. Microscopic examination showed that the image consisted of fine yellow to red granules on the surface of the fibres.

One suggestion, made by Silvio Curto, a collector of Egyptian cloth, was that the shroud might be authentic or might be no earlier than the tenth century CE. This is typical of the results of the 1973 tests: they were completely inconclusive. What they appeared to show was that the cloth was unlikely to have been made in an orthodox Jewish weaving shed, had spent time in different locations from the Middle East to northern Europe and was of a weave that was characteristic of medieval European cloth. The tests could not show how the image was formed.

STURP

The second 1970s project is better known, thanks to a concerted campaign by many members of the team to publicise what they saw as clear proof of the shroud’s authenticity. Known as STURP (the Shroud of TUrin Research Project Inc.), the membership of the project varied and it is clear that there were considerable tensions within the group. Members were forced to sign an oath of secrecy, preventing them from publishing individual test results before a final report was due to be published in 1980. By that time, there was no sign of a report and individual team members had published their results elsewhere. And those results were controversial: team members disagreed with each other over the significance and meaning of what they had found in a war of words that was conducted in public. Indeed, it was never able to make a formal, conclusive report, perhaps in part because it was caught up in political and religious intrigues.

An incomplete list of those involved includes: Joseph S Accetta (Lockheed Corporation), Al Adler (Western Connecticut State University), Steven Baumgart (US Air Force Weapons Laboratories), Ernest H Brooks II (Brooks Institute of Photography), Robert Bucklin (Medical Examiner’s Office, Harris County, Texas),  Donald Devan (Oceanographic Services Inc.), Rudolph J Dichtl (University of Colorado), Rev. Robert Dinegar (Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratories), Thomas F D’Muhala (Nuclear Technology Corporation), Tom Dolle (Christ Brotherhood), Jim Drusik (Los Angeles County Museum), Mark Evans (Brooks Institute of Photography), Joseph Gambescia (St Agnes Medical Center), John D German (US Air Force Weapons Laboratories), Roger & Marty Gilbert (Oriel Corporation), Gary Habermas (Liberty College), Thomas Haverty (Rocky Mountain Thermograph), John Heller (New England Institute), John P Jackson (US Air Force Academy), Donald & Joan Janney (Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratories), Eric J Jumper (US Air Force Academy), J Ronald London (Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratories), Jean Lorre (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Donald J Lynn (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Walter McCrone (McCrone Associates), George Markoski (Nuclear Technology Corporation), Vernon D Miller (Brooks Institute of Photography), Roger A Morris (Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratories), Robert W Mottern (Sandia Laboratories), Fr. Adam Otterbein (Holy Shroud Guild), Samuel Pellicori (Santa Barbara Research Center), Giovanni Riggi (University of Turin), Fr. Peter Rinaldi (Holy Shroud Guild), Rev. John A T Robinson (Bishop of Woolwich), Ray Rogers (Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratories), Larry Schwalbe (Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratories), Diane Soran (Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratories), Rev. David Sox (British Society for the Turin Shroud), Kenneth E Stevenson (IBM) and Barrie M Schwortz (Barrie Schwortz Studios).

It should be noted that some lists available on the web (such as this one) name only the American participants. There do not seem to be any complete lists readily available, which is hardly surprising, given the fluid and informal nature of the group’s membership, but disturbing for a number of reasons. It is noticeable that all these lists pointedly omit Walter McCrone, who resigned from the team in 1980, claiming that threats had been made on his life for his sceptical suggestions that the shroud was a medieval forgery. They also omit participants with religious affiliations, often by using the weasel word “including” to introduce the list without hinting that there were other members. One has to wonder why this should be so.

The methods used by STURP did not include radiocarbon dating. When initially set up, it had a radiocarbon subcommittee (composed of Robert Dinegar, Ray Rogers and David Sox), but was not included on the list of authorised tests released on 24 April 1978 by Don Piero Coero-Borga of the Centro Internazionale di Sindonologia. A furious David Sox released the list of tests to The Times, which published it on the front page. Coero-Borga’s reasoning was that “the Pollen Test has given very positive results with regard to the age and history of the Shroud” and should be extended across a wider area. This is, of course, completely wrong: the pollen can only be used to date the shroud if one assumes that it was in Palestine at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, a completely circular argument.

John Jackson and Eric Jumper scanned photographs of the Shroud taken in 1931 using a microdensitometer (specifically an Interpretation VP-8 Image Analyser), a now largely obsolete instrument used principally in scanning astronomical photographs and biological samples. They claimed that their results produced data that could be interpreted in three dimensions. By 1980, the STURP team was drawing back somewhat from these enthusiastic conclusions, stating that “the phrase “three-dimensional information encoded in the image”, used by the original authors, has been misrepresented and sensationalised… the term itself is inherently misleading because it implies that a precisely defined mapping function is known. This is not the case; the reflected image densities provide only incomplete information… The results have not as yet suggested a particular image formation mechanism nor do they imply that a three-dimensional object was necessary to produce the image”.

Eric Jumper himself later said “The 3-D business doesn’t prove anything about the Shroud… it’s just an observation”. In other words, it’s a version of the well-known analyst’s maxim GIGO (“garbage in, garbage out”), meaning that the production of the image in three dimensions is a red herring, an example of data manipulation rather than of anything inherent in the data. Nevertheless, the wrong-headed claim of three-dimensional encoding continues to be touted by believers in the Shroud’s authenticity as one of the most significant pieces of evidence for its origin.

Pollen analysis carried out by STURP failed to replicate the results obtained a few years earlier by Max Frei. The team was critical of his findings and did not produce any new pollen evidence. Nevertheless, supporters of the Shroud tend to cite Frei’s analysis, while glossing over the criticisms raised by the STURP team.

The face as revealed in Secondo Pia’s negative

The face as revealed in Secondo Pia’s negative

Techniques used to examine the ‘body image’ areas of the Shroud included photomicroscopy, X-radiography, electron microscopy, chemical analyses and mass spectrometry in an attempt to find traces of pigment. Pigments including alizarin, charcoal and ultramarine were found, but did not necessarily coincide with the position of the body image. Their presence remains unexplained, however. Walter McCrone’s results obtained from photomicroscopy of a sample from the body image found high concentrations of iron oxide and traces of a protein, which he interpreted as pigment and medium, but were ridiculed by other members of the team (some sources claim that his results have been refuted, implying that they have been proven wrong, which is not the case).

The results show that image is not painted. What is seen on the shroud is a chemical darkening of a starch and polysaccharide coating on some of the fibres: it is evidently not the fibres themselves that are discoloured, but something applied to them after manufacture. This could be something to do with the traces of protein McCrone detected.

The ‘blood stains’ were examined more thoroughly by STURP than the earlier study and were found to have leaked all the way through the cloth, indicating that they had once been liquid. Various tests, including ultraviolet fluorescence imaging, X-ray fluorescence imaging, transmission spectroscopy, reflection spectroscopy and chemical tests suggest that this was real blood; John Heller and a colleague, Alan Adler, found traces of what they suggested might be highly degraded haemoglobin on the tapes that McCrone had analysed, but they failed to convince the majority of the team. One tester, Baiama Bollone, has claimed to have identified its type as AB, which he claimed matched miraculously transformed wine in the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, confirming that this was indeed the blood of Jesus. On the other hand, the colour of the stains raises suspicions that this is an iron-based pigment, as dried blood is brown, not red.

Giovanni Riggi, a chemist, found traces of a substance chemically resembling natron (Na2CO3·10H2O), a mineral used in Ancient Egypt as part of the mummification process. How this might have been used in a Jewish burial of the first century CE is not explained although, intriguingly, one of the conclusions of the STURP team was that the image had been produced by dehydration of the linen fibres. Sources of the mineral include a number of places in Italy, so its presence cannot be taken as evidence for a Middle Eastern origin for the cloth.

Two members, Kenneth Stevenson and Gary Habermas (the latter a professor at fundamentalist Jerry Falwell’s Liberty College), stated that the odds of the image not being Jesus of Nazareth were “one chance in 82,944,000”. Whilst fundamentalists are inordinately fond of quoting probability statistics about the unlikelihood of something happening by chance, they rarely reveal the basis on which their calculations are made, and this is no exception. It is such a precise figure that it instantly raises suspicion.

Nevertheless, the overwhelming public impression after the STURP study of 1978 was that the authenticity of the shroud had been demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt. Still, there remained disquiet among many, including some members of the STURP team such as Bishop John Robinson, that radiocarbon dating had not been attempted. Sceptical outsiders were also concerned that the majority of scholars chosen to run the tests were from christian religious denominations with a vested interest in the cloth.

Radiocarbon dating

During the 1980s, negotiations to submit samples of cloth to Accelerator Mass Spectrometry dating, which requires much smaller samples than older techniques, were begun. In 1987, agreement was reached to test seven samples weighing no more than 50 g and tested independently in seven separate laboratories that would not be allowed to share their results. In the event, three laboratories were chosen (Arizona, Oxford and Zürich) and asked to perform several tests on each of four samples taken from one corner of the cloth, which had been carefully checked to be free from later repairs.

The sample dates (in years before present (bp) with likely error) from each laboratory were as follows:

Sample 1: Arizona (AA-3367): 591±30 bp, 690±35 bp, 606±41 bp and 701±33 bp.
Sample 1: Oxford (Ox-2575): 795±65 bp, 730±45 bp and 745±55 bp.
Sample 1: Zürich (ETH-2883): 733±61 bp, 722±56 bp, 635±57 bp, 639±45 bp and 679±51 bp

Sample 2: Arizona (AA-3368): 922±48 bp, 986±56 bp, 829±50 bp, 996±38 bp and 894±37 bp
Sample 2: Oxford (Ox-2574): 980±55 bp, 915±55 bp and 925±45 bp
Sample 2: Zürich (ETH-3884): 890±59 bp, 1,036±63 bp, 923±47 bp, 980±50 bp and 904±46 bp

Sample 3: Arizona (AA-3369): 1,838±47 bp, 2,041±43 bp, 1,960±55 bp, 1,983±37 bp and 2,137±46 bp
Sample 3: Oxford (Ox-2576): 1,955±70 bp, 1,975±55 bp and 1,990±50 bp
Sample 3: Zürich (ETH-3885): 1,984±50 bp, 1,886±48 bp and 1,954±50 bp

Sample 4: Arizona (AA-3370): 724±42 bp, 778±88 bp, 764±45 bp, 602±38 bp and 825±44 bp
Sample 4: Oxford (Ox-2589): 785±50 bp, 710±40 bp and 790±45 bp
Sample 4: Zürich (ETH-3882): 739±63 bp, 676±60 bp, 760±66 bp, 646±49 bp and 660±46 bp

This is an unprecedented number of samples, with one set from the Shroud and three control samples: the laboratories were not told which sample came from the Shroud and which from the control objects. Those from each sample are consistent, so they can be combined into means. Sample 1 therefore has a mean radiocarbon date of 691±31 bp, which calibrates to 1262-1312, 1353-1384 CE at 2σ (95% confidence); sample 2 has a mean of 937±16, which calibrates to 1026-1160 CE at 2σ; sample 3 has a mean of 1,964±20, with a calibration of 9 BCE – 78 CE at 2σ; and sample 4 has a mean of 724±20, with a calibrated range of 1263-1283 CE at 2σ.

What do these dates mean? Sample 1 was from the Shroud, sample 2 from linen from a Nubian tomb of the eleventh to twelfth centuries CE, sample 3 was linen from a mummy of the early second century CE and sample 4 was from threads removed from the cope of St Louis d’Anjou dated to 1290-1310 CE. There is therefore no question that the Shroud is not medieval; we can be 95% confident that the cloth was manufactured between 1262 and 1384 CE. The chances of it dating from the first century CE are so vanishingly small that they can be discounted completely. This did not surprise those who had always believed the Shroud to be a medieval fake, as the documents relating to its first known exposition c 1354×6 described above record it as having been made “recently”: the date fits well with the radiocarbon assay.

Reaction to the scientific testing

There was little public reaction to the 1973 tests, apart from Max Frei’s pollen analyses. These could be interpreted to mean that the Shroud had indeed once been in Palestine, giving hope to those who wanted it to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus. There are problems with the pollen analysis, though: the Shroud was regularly exhibited in the open air until 1931, allowing it to pick up air-borne pollen (indeed, this is what enabled Frei to trace its alleged journey from the Middle East via Constantinople to France). Species of plants producing the pollen that Frei had identified as Middle Eastern are also to be found in Italy, meaning that the Shroud could have gained this pollen since its removal to Turin. Frei had gathered the pollen by applying sticky tape to the surface of the Shroud without recording where he had done so and without assessing whether or not the areas from which he sampled might have been contaminated. Members of the STURP team rightly criticised his methodology.

The results of the STURP team were predictably conflicting and gave comfort both to believers in the authenticity of the Shroud and sceptics. Those who had welcomed Max Frei’s pollen analysis were enthused by the alleged three-dimensionality of the image (actually no more than an artefact of computer processing, as admitted by one of the analysts who had “discovered” it), the presence of real blood (although not proven to the satisfaction of all) and the lack of evidence for any technique that might have been used to paint the image (despite the acknowledged presence of a variety of pigments).

Sceptics sided with Walter McCrone’s discovery of iron oxide particles and protein (albeit in smaller quantities than he suggested), the debunking of Max Frei’s pollen analysis and the available historical data. With no consensus among the STURP team (and the well publicised religious conversions of a number of its members), the analysis had reached an impasse that could only be resolved by scientific dating.

The results of the radiocarbon dating were similarly divisive. The scientific community was relieved that the results were consistent: all four laboratories came up with near-identical results, while the determinations for the three samples of known manufacturing date were consistent with those dates. This gave great confidence in the reliability of the radiocarbon determinations.

Believers in the authenticity of the Shroud were dismayed and began to speculate about how the radiocarbon dates might somehow be “wrong”. Perhaps the miracle of the resurrection had somehow altered the physical properties of the cloth, irradiating it and making it appear younger than it ought. Perhaps there was some undetectable contamination by microorganisms that were of recent date and present in such numbers that they altered the date (we can calculate the proportion of modern carbon needed to make a first century CE sample appear to date from the fourteenth century: physicist Thomas Pickett calculated it as around 67%, which would make those who prepared the samples very slipshod in their cleaning and, incidentally, slipshod to exactly the same extent in all three laboratories). Perhaps the cloth was contaminated by fibres from an otherwise undetected repair (the laboratories removed some cotton fibres from the samples they were given); there is now a rash of published papers arguing this view. Sheer weight of numbers does not mean the idea is correct, of course.

The Shroud of Turin Blog says that “[c]otton isn’t the contaminant here. It suggests the possibility of other contaminants”, which is a bit of a red herring. Cotton has been blamed for potentially contaminating the sample and as evidence that the piece removed for testing was part of a repair. The Shroud of Turin Blog’s author has made the a priori assumption that there must be contamination of the sample because he doesn’t want to accept the date provided by the laboratories. Bringing up “[m]adder root dye, aluminum products [and] gum” is not an answer. Ray Rogers found these materials (one of which is a pigment, incidentally, something that the Shroud of Turin Blog denies is present on the Shroud!) in two thread samples that were said to have been left over from those submitted for radiocarbon dating whist claiming that they are not present on the rest of the Shroud. They are.

Perhaps the alleged contamination is a result of manual handling over the centuries. Still, no matter what the source of contamination, it would have to be in the order of 67% modern material causing the contamination. Make it cotton from sixteenth-century repairs and the proportion of contaminated to original material would have to increase at a geometric rate. The idea that the samples were contaminated is simply not credible unless one assumes massive incompetence at all three radiocarbon laboratories, the same degree of contamination in all three samples and the same inability to remove any of the contaminants. This is just silly.

Chemist Roy Rogers proposed an alternative, chemical dating method based on the decay of lignin in the linen fibres, citing the absence of vanillin in detectable quantities. Using fibres allegedly left over from the 1988 tests, he claimed the test gave a date of between 3000 BCE and 700 CE, which is a very wide range of dates, but significantly older than a fourteenth-century cloth. Others have been unable to replicate his results. While there is clearly a correlation between lignin decay and age, the assumption that this takes place at a known and constant rate is unproven. The problem here is understanding the rate of loss of vanillin from the linen fibres, especially considering the effects of the fire that damaged the cloth in 1532. It may be useful in establishing relative age between two samples from the same environment (although this has yet to be demonstrated), but there is no evidence of its utility as an absolute dating technique.

All these proposals are post hoc rationalisations rather than something forced by the evidence. There is remarkable congruity of evidence for the date of the Shroud: documentary, radiocarbon, textile analysis and art historical. These all point to the fourteenth century CE (or thereabouts), not the first century CE.

Further claims about the cloth

In 2009, a researcher in the Vatican archives, Dr Barbara Frale, announced that she had discovered faint writing on the Shroud while studying digitally enhanced photographs produced in 1994. In her book La Sindone di Gesu Nazareno, she goes further than the STURP team, which believed that it had identified several letters close to the head of the image, and counts eleven words in total in the same area. Some words are in Greek, others in Aramaic, yet others in Latin. She claims that among other things, there is the Greek phrase [Ι]ησου[ς] Ναζαρηννος ([I]esou[s] Nazarennos, ‘Jesus the Nazarene’) as well as a fragment reading …ιβερ… (…iber…), which she interprets as part of the name of the Emperor Tiberius (42 BCE – 37 CE). Describing the ‘text’ as a ‘death certificate’ glued around the head of the deceased, she interprets it as reading “In the year 16 of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, Jesus the Nazarene, taken down at the ninth hour, after having been condemned to death by a Roman judge because he was found guilty (of inciting the people to revolt) by a Hebrew authority, is hereby sent for burial with the obligation of being consigned to his family only after one full year. Signed by…” (the name of the supposed signatory cannot be read).

Barbara Frale is an expert on medieval documents: she was responsible for the publication of the Vatican’s archives relating to the suppression of the Knights Templar early in the fourteenth century and has claimed that the order once owned the Turin Shroud. However, her work on the Shroud has not been well received, except by true believers. Some have suggested that the letters are imprinted from a reliquary laid next to the Shroud in the medieval period, which she dismisses. She claims that a medieval text could not refer to Jesus as “the Nazarene”, as this would have been “heretical”. It is also highly unlikely that the three languages she claims to read would be mixed in an official ‘death certificate’; although both Aramaic and Greek are found on ossuaries of the period, Latin is completely absent and was not used in official documents in the region. The ecclesiastical historian Antonio Lombatti has suggested that Frale’s ‘letters’ are just a product of pareidolia, the innate human tendency to make meaningful patterns from random splodges and dots. This makes a lot of sense. The ‘words’ have to be teased out from three quite different languages, never mixed in other contexts, in much the same way as ‘EVP (electronic voice phenomena, claimed to be voices of the dead) manifest as utterances in numerous different languages, each word an example of apophenia.

Back to basics: the context of Jewish burial customs

In 2009, it was reported that a genuinely first-century CE burial shroud had been discovered in the Hinnom valley in Jerusalem. This is the first discovery of its kind and provides the first material with which to compare the Turin Shroud. This shroud was found in a tomb that had been partly disturbed by looters, which is why Professor Shimon Gibson from the Israel Antiquities Authority excavated it completely. As usual, the looters were looking for saleable artefacts, such as ossuaries, and had left the shroud fragments as valueless.

The survival of the cloth is unusual and seems to have occurred because, unusually, the tomb was completely sealed with plaster, which had prevented the tomb from becoming damp. Furthermore, the relatives of the man buried in the shroud had not returned to gather up the strips of cloth for deposition in an ossuary. The reason for this appears to have been that the deceased had suffered from leprosy and tuberculosis, which were detected in DNA samples taken from the surviving bones.

The weave of the “Hinnom Shroud” from National Geographic

The weave of the “Hinnom Shroud” from National Geographic

So how do the characteristics of this certainly first century CE cloth compare with those of the Turin Shroud? Firstly, the “Hinnom Shroud”, as it may be called, is not a single piece of cloth. Rather, it consists of a mixture of woollen and linen cloths, stitched together into a patchwork, unlike the single piece of linen that comprises the Turin Shroud. There is also a separate piece of cloth to cover the face, which is what would be expected from what we know of Jewish burial customs of the period. Secondly, whereas the weave of the Turin Shroud is a type known as twill, a weave with a characteristic diamond pattern (denim is a cloth with twill weave), that of the “Hinnom Shroud” is a simple cross-weave. Twill was unknown in the Middle East until the medieval period, which has long been seen as a problem for the Turin Shroud’s authenticity as the burial cloth of a Jew of the first century CE. Now we have an undisputed shroud from the right time and place, it does not have a twill weave. Moreover, it conforms more to what we would expect from a Jewish burial cloth rather than to something a medieval artist might imagine one to have been.

The “Hinnom Shroud” consists of a patchwork of cloths with a separate piece for the head, all made in a plain two-way weave, quite unlike the Turin Shroud. Going back to the Gospels – our only sources of information about the burial of Jesus – we find that they mention not a single cloth but “strips of linen” (Luke XXIV.12 and John XX.5, both using the Greek plural word ὀθόνια, meaning ‘small pieces or strips of linen’). Supporters of the authenticity of the Turin Shroud are careful not to quote these passages, which show that the evangelists did not think of the body of Jesus as ever having been wrapped in a single linen cloth.

The image of the body

In the discussion around the age of the cloth, the composition of the markings on it and the mechanisms that might have caused the image to exist, the art historical aspects are often overlooked. In the case of those who believe that the Shroud is a genuine relic of Jesus of Nazareth’s resurrection, there is no need; in the case of the sceptics who believe it to be a medieval forgery, the paucity of discussion is surprising. If, as they assert, the Shroud is the product of a highly skilled fourteenth-century artist, more effort should be made to find parallels for the techniques employed and the actual depiction of the body.

It has long been noted that there are anatomical curiosities. The neck, arms and hands appear too long for a normally proportioned human; there is no navel; the buttocks (probably the heaviest part of the body allegedly to have come into contact with the Shroud) are very poorly defined; the feet are badly delineated.

With some of these discrepancies, obvious solutions can be suggested. The arms and hands have been extended artificially to cover the genitals: it would be inconceivable for a medieval artist to depict the genitalia of the crucified Jesus (it was acceptable in pictures of the baby Jesus, though). The buttocks are given summary treatment for similar reasons of prudery. Moreover, unless the arms were tied together at the wrists, the arms should have dropped to rest on the elbows, either side of the body; there is no trace of ties (and this despite claims that the image is so prefect that one can make out letters on the coins allegedly place over the eyes following a distinctly pagan practice). The navel is not depicted because of a medieval theological controversy over whether Jesus (like Adam and Eve) would have had one; indeed, as the “second Adam”, Jesus was expected to be similar.

Another problem concerns the top of the head: it simply isn’t there. This is very difficult to explain if the Shroud had been wrapped around a real human body. Either it went tightly round the crown of the head, in which case the image of the front would merge seamlessly with the back, or there was a gap at the top, in which case the cloth would have dropped over the top of the head, attaching an image of the crown to the image of the front. Instead, we just see a gap between front and back images. This is completely implausible for an image formed by unknown means from a body wrapped in the Shroud, but entirely feasible for the work of a skilful artist.

Ian Wilson has attempted, in numerous publications, to show that earlier depictions of Jesus in art from the Roman Empire onwards have often been based on the image shown on the Shroud. Nevertheless, there are wide variations in the depiction of Jesus and only some bear a likeness to this one; it is just as likely (more so, in view of the other evidence), that the face on the Shroud was designed to look like familiar representations of Jesus.

Conclusions

As the Shroud of Turin Blog says, “[g]ood archaeology means considering all the facts, not just those that are convenient”; this is absolutely the case (although I would prefer the term “evidence” to “facts”, when we’ve already seen just how contentious some of the alleged “facts” of the case are). Some believers try to dismiss the documentary evidence and the radiocarbon dating, despite their mutual agreement; they also point to the lack of consensus about how the image was formed and make great play of its allegedly three-dimensional encoding.

The letter of Bishop Pierre II that mentions an inquiry by a predecessor is dismissed by the Shroud of Turin blog as a “hearsay claim — and that is all it seems to be, for no one was ever identified and no document has been found that recounts what a then dead bishop had supposedly said — has been largely dismissed by historians”, which shows both a massive misunderstanding of the poor survival of medieval documents and makes a sweeping claim without evidence. Historians have not, by and large, dismissed the report of Bishop Pierre II; it seems that only those who want to believe in a Shroud older than the fourteenth century have sought reasons to disbelieve it.

The Shroud of Turin Blog objects to my handling of the derived three-dimensional data from the Shroud. The blogger has advised me to have a look at a site that tries to explain the alleged three dimensional encoding in the image. According to its author, the Shroud image does not have the type of shading that is found in photographs or paintings: “[t]here is no direction to what seems like light. Something else is causing the lighter and darker shades. That is looks like light to us is an optical illusion” (spelling error in the original). What none of this reveals, of course, is that the three-dimensionality is not encoded in the image, as admitted by one of those who made the original claim, but is derived from it by a mathematical function that the analysts themselves determined. A different function would have given different results. This is data manipulation, not an inherent property of the Shroud’s image.

Another well known face rendered in three dimensions

Another well known face rendered in three dimensions from a two-dimensional image

Now, I’m no graphic artist, but even with limited photographic manipulation skills, I’ve been able to come up with the image on the right. Firstly, I plotted a well known monochrome photograph as a bump map; then I rendered it in negative; next, I applied a bit of perspective; finally, I turned it green (as it’s generally a green image of the face on the Shroud that is shown in an allegedly three-dimensional form). The results aren’t exactly spectacular, but they are approaching the nature of the picture derived from the Shroud. What I find especially interesting is the way that unevenness in the surface of the scanned photograph show up beautifully as three-dimensional. So, I have conducted my own brief experiment (I spent two minutes playing with the image) and found that this alleged property of the Shroud is not as unique as is claimed.

The lack of consensus about how the image might have been formed needs to account for Walter McCrone’s 1998 explanation, that it’s a result of a very dilute vermillion and red ochre tempera, which sounds reasonable and would explain the thinness of the coating on the fibres. McCrone examined samples from the Shroud and identified the chemicals used. He also pointed out that the technique, known as grisaille, was common in the fourteenth century. I suspect that the thinness of the coating – and it’s significant that the blog claiming to detect Bad Archaeology here admits that it is a coating – is a result of the extreme dilution noted by McCrone (0.01% in a 0.01% gelatin solution: remember, these are the results of tests, not wishful thinking). The fact that Ray Rogers, whom The Shroud of Turin Blog quotes with evident approval, was unable to find any evidence for pigments using visible and ultraviolet spectrometry, infrared spectrometry, x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, thermography, pyrolysis-mass-spectrometry, laser­ microprobe Raman analyses and microchemical testing are effectively meaningless. Two pigments known to have been used in medieval painting, with a carrying medium also known to have been used, were found in one of the tests. That needs to be explained, not glossed over or simply denied.

I also wonder about the role of the natron. Given that the changes to the linen fibres involve ageing through desiccation and that natron is a desiccating agent, is there a link between the two? Might the image have been created by dusting the cloth with natron in areas the artist wanted to darken? Is this perhaps then enhanced by a very light application of dry vermillion red ochre? Lack of a liquid medium would prevent the pigment from entering the fibres but would enable it to coat it very thinly. The technique of tempera painting onto cloth is fourteenth century, the first record of the shroud is fourteenth century and the radiocarbon dates show that it was manufactured in the fourteenth century.

The result is that those who believe the cloth to be the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth have tried to dismiss the results of the radiocarbon dating. All manner of bizarre suggestions have been made, from irradiation during the miracle of Jesus’s resurrection to contamination by fungal spores of recent date. None of these excuses works. The shroud is medieval and those who believe otherwise are deluded.

When those who wish to promote the Shroud as a genuine artefact of first-century CE date, they must explain:

  • how Bishop Henri of Troyes was fooled in the mid 1350s by someone who claimed to have painted the Shroud;
  • why Bishop Pierre II of Troyes, the Avignon Pope Clement II and the de Charnay family accepted that the Lirey Shroud was an image and not the actual burial cloth of Jesus;
  • how the alleged contaminants in the fibres submitted for radiocarbon dating have produced dates that match so well the date of the Bishop’s alleged artist;
  • why there are traces of vermillion and madder on the cloth in sufficient concentrations to produce an image using the medieval technique of grisaille;
  • the role of the natron found on the cloth;
  • why the image on the cloth is anatomically impossible (the neck is too long, the legs are too long, the arms have not flopped to the side – which would have had the unfortunate effect of exposing the body’s genitalia);
  • why the cloth has not draped itself around the sides of the body but remained miraculously on a single plane for the imprint of the image;
  • why the weave of the cloth is one common in the European Middle Ages but not found on the only definite burial cloth of first century CE date to have been identified;
  • why the Gospels refer not to a single cloth but to ὀθόνια, ‘small strips of linen’ (Luke XXIV.12 and John XX.5).

These issues (and more) need be addressed if the Shroud is to be demonstrated anything other than a medieval fake.

51 Responses to The Turin Shroud

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  • Deke Brodie says:

    One additional killer fact points directly to the shroud’s fakery, unmentioned above. It concerns the odd length of leg on the Turin image. You can see this easily enough on any full-length photo. The legs are simply too long for its body.

    The explanation is a simple but interesting one. The same extravagant leg length is visible on medieval statues on the sides of Gothic churches. It was the then-current aesthetic when it came to artists representing the human body. Like the Cottingley Fairies with their 1920s fashions, or 1940s UFO photos with their post-deco curves, no fake can ever free itself from the very human hand (and eye, and aesthetic sense) that shaped it.

  • Mani says:

    If the Shroud is fake I challenge you to reproduce it. How was it done ? Was it a painting? Or was somebody actually flogged and crucified and wrapped with the shroud ?

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  • Flagrum3 says:

    Bad Archaeology LOL, nice title! But alas this is exactly what I find on your page! Not only bad archaeology but a page full of lies, misrepresentations, skewed facts and you have blatantly left out much of the true facts pertaining to scientific tests-(thats ‘peer-reviewed’ tests). I can spend alot of time here pointing out all your errors; sentence by sentence, as that is how many errors you make, but I think you already know them.

    It is a shame that you would try to pass off what you’ve written here as anything near the truth or accurate.

    Anyone that has done a minute amount of ‘real’ study into the Shroud would see through your ignorance and your blatant bias.

    Seriously you should be completely ashamed of yourself.

    F3

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      If you want to point out where I’ve lied and misrepresented things, please do! I suspect that you’re the one with the biased perspective who has jumped to conclusions about where I’m coming from in what I write. I am trying to look at the evidence – all of it – and see what it says about the Shroud.

      You should be ashamed of yourself, by the way, for accusing me of lying and misrepresenting data when you fail utterly to point out any of my supposed errors.

      Go on, prove me wrong. I’ll be listening.

      • Flagrum3 says:

        Here ‘s a big misrepresentation; McCrone was NEVER a member of STURP, he was asked by Ray Rogers to sample some threads, thats all. Then he refused to return them for over a year lol. McCrone’s conclusions have been 100% refutted by several other chemists, including R.Rogers, even one of McCrone’s own people pointed out his errors but he ‘dismissed’ him out of hand.

        Your Hinnom valley “burial cloth” story is a joke, any half-wit would realize how since the cloth was a mix of linen and wool points directly to this not being a customary ‘Jewish” burial as jewish law states clearly not to mix the two materials in their burial cloths. PLus for any archaeologist to find ‘one’ burial cloth and assume all cloths from the period were of the same is just ‘BAD ARCHAEOLOGY” or ‘BAD’ reasoning at the least.

        I could go on forever here refutting your nonsense, but I put it to any readers here to not trust anything said here and would urge them to further research for themselfs all the facts from ‘legit’ sources, if they are interested in the truth about the Shroud of Turin.

        F3

        • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

          Actually, McCrone was a member of STURP: he resigned in the summer of 1980. Yes, he does come across as arrogant, irascible and inclined not to listen to the arguments of others. That characterisation is true of just about every other member of the STURP team, but it doesn’t invalidate their observations or arguments. McCrone’s conclusions have not been “100% refutted”; there have been attempt to refute his conclusions, but his observation that the ‘bloodstains’ contain iron oxide has not been refuted at all. The question is whether the oxide derives from a pigment (his conclusion) or whether it derives from haemoglobin (which has not been definitively identified).

          The reason for mentioning the Hinnom cloth is that it is the ONLY sample of a burial cloth we have. If we want to compare the Shroud of Turin with a burial cloth of the early first century CE, we have to use the evidence at our disposal. That’s not Bad Archaeology: that’s the only way to proceed. Regardless of your “no true Jew” argument, it comes from a burial site where the rites are unquestionably Jewish, the shroud strips are woollen and the bones were never collected for reburial in an ossuary because DNA evidence showed that the person wrapped in the cloth suffered from leprosy. I’ve not been able to find any detailed discussion of the composition of the Hinnom cloth, so I’d be interested to know where you got the information that it was of mixed fibres: none of the sources I’ve seen mention linen.

          You aren’t actually refuting anything. You’ve come along with some dubious and unsupported statements (and a complete untruth about Walter McCrone). You insult me by calling what I write “nonsense” whilst spouting it yourself. If anyone is interested in the “truth” about the Shroud, they need to do a lot of reading on both sides of the debate.

          • KEITH,

            YOU WROTE: “I’ve not been able to find any detailed discussion of the composition of the Hinnom cloth, so I’d be interested to know where you got the information that it was of mixed fibres: none of the sources I’ve seen mention linen.”

            IN FACT, the National Geographic article, which displays the image of the hinnom shroud, which you used as an illustration on this page, says:
            “The newfound shroud was something of a patchwork of simply woven linen and wool textiles, the study found.”

            Regards.

        • Terry says:

          Can I offer you a simple observation;
          The shroud of Turin is a single piece of cloth wrapped over the body and head of Jesus.
          Why are there two separate images?
          As it is wrapped over his head it should also have taken the impression of his hair – making the two images connected.
          A lovely work of art.

  • Dan Porter says:

    A comprehensive response, Bad Archaeology at Bad Archaeology, may be found at shroudblog.com. Please feel free to post comments on the site. Thank you. Dan Porter.

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  • Colin Berry says:

    Regarding that overlong neck, I don’t know how many folk have seen my model for how the frontal image of the Shroud was probably faked from a heated statue or bas-relief, by pressing down forcefully face-down into linen on a bed of sand to leave a scorch-imprint, but here’s a paragraph I have just added to the most recent post:

    “Something else to consider: Others, e.g. the Bad Archaeology site, have pointed out that the image is “anatomically impossible”, that for example “neck is too long”. There is a simple explanation for that in my sand bed model. When the metal effigy (bronze statue or whatever) was pushed into the linen/sand the cloth was first pressed against the “square on” features of the face, and then turned a right angle at the end of the chin, when it was then pressed lightly against the underside of the chin, following the contours, before hitting the next square-on surface, i.e. the neck. But here’s the crucial point: when the linen is then removed and laid flat, the neck will look too long because the top portion represents the underside of the chin, which can be a considerable length (it is about 10 cm on both me and the missus!)”

    Colin Berry aka sciencebod

  • Aruvqan says:

    I always wondered how they correct the carbon dating for items damaged/kept in a smokey environment. Not that I think the stupid thing is real, I just wonder at procedures.

    As to the Hinnom Valley burial cloth that one is patchworked together and it combines 2 different types of cloth, I do not get the sense that the spun fibres are mixed fiber just offhand. Just because Old Testament calls mixing of fibres as against mosaic code, doesn’t mean that 600 years later in the early Christian era that you would not be finding mixed fiber cloth given the additional roman and greek population that moved into the area.

  • Magnum says:

    The first solid evidence of the Shroud of Turin in Europe is the Hungarian Pray Manuscript of 1192 AD. This is long before Leonardo DaVinci or the d’Arcis memorandum. We also have records of the Shroud being the Mandylion & the Cloth of Edessa in the first millennium. The Suderium of Oviedo is the other cloth found in the tomb in John 20:7. It’s history is well documented back to the time of Christ. Forensic analysis show it covered the same body as the Shroud. Radiocarbon 14 tests on the Shroud were from cloth removed from the border that was invisibly woven onto the Shroud at a later date. Carbon 14 tests on ancient cloths have been inaccurate due to bioplastic bacterial contamination of the fibers. (Some cloth from Egyptian mummies that we know for sure are 3,000 years old tested to 280 AD.) The fact is, Jesus is real and He died for your sin. You can use any ‘bad archaeology’ to try to refute this, but someday you’ll die and meet Him. He’ll ask you why you didn’t believe in Him if you continue to reject Him.

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      No, the earlier examples you cite are not evidence for the Shroud of Turin: they are evidence for religious icons that were far from unique. As I mention in the article, there were plenty of other “Shrouds” in France alone.

      The “evidence” for the Sudarium of Oviedo being connected with the Shroud of Turin is that a grain of pollen from the Sudarium matched one the discredited pollen types from the Shroud, while the supposed blood traces on each have been claimed (by just one researcher and never replicated) to be of the unusual blood group AB. Remember that the evidence for blood (human or otherwise) on the Shroud of Turin is highly disputed.

      Thank you for your religious opinions, which have no bearing on the study of poorly documented artefacts. The Shroud of Turin is a medieval fake that has nothing to do with my own religious beliefs.

    • Claire Howdle says:

      MAGNUM

      I don’t mean to offend anyone or their beliefs in saying this but religion is a fairytale, inventive writing, fiction etc. Religions the world over in my opinion were formed to keep people in check. And i don’t blame them as there was no judicial systems to stop people raping/murdering etc back then. To think that people actually STILL believe there was a worldwide flood, and 2 of every species sailed around in a boat until ‘God’ pulled the plug. You would think given how much we have advanced as a race that we wouldn’t need to believe some all powerful being is watching us all the time in order for us to live moral lives.

      In all honesty what fairytale’s people believe does not make me angry, but ranting on at people who are presenting (non-bias) scientific evidence is simply outrageous. I will just ask one question….. If there was such a being which created everything in existence why would he/she/it care who believed in he/she/it?

      Personally, I understand people need a belief system, certain rules to stick to, or just simply need to believe you go somewhere when you die, that is what seems to be the human condition. I mean lets face it nobody wants to believe that you just die and become dust. However, when someone discovers an artefact and rigorously tests it, and eventually proves it to be a medieval fake, what gives you the right to judge the person who is just presenting the FACTS just because they don’t match up to your idealistic view?

      In short please do not force your backward, illogical, nonsensical and outdated views on an innocent party just trying to bring some factual sense to a long debated artefact. Rant over :)

      Keith, i love your site and am working my way through all the content with intrigue. I was so sick of looking at sites which only focus on the bits they want you to see which fits a certain perspective. The fact you are happy to add any evidence on either side of the debate that may have slipped past you speaks volumes on the sort of archaeologist you are. Refreshing to say the least. How you put up with some people i will never know.

    • helena says:

      Jesus may well have been a real person, executed by the Romans, as were many others, as a rebel against their purely earthly regime. That many believe him to have been the son of god is indisputable. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant. you either believe or not. The veracity of the many money making ventures that were the supposed holy relics is an irrelevance. Jesus chased the money lenders from the temple and he would have had nothing to do with this nonsense.

  • W. D. says:

    Wow. Thank you Dan Porter for the link you’ve provided.

    shroudblog.com

  • Charles Freeman says:

    The Sign by Thomas de Wesselow has now come out. It is a long and tedious business refuting all its many claims but I have posted a review on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com dealing with one major point- the attempt to link the Turin Shroud with the (probable) three shrouds known in Constantinople in 1204. His claim, p.172, that’ The carbon dating of the Shroud will probably go down in history as one of the greatest fiascos in the history of science’ is alas all too typical of his ‘scholarship’. I feel sad that someone with a supposedly ‘good’ academic background was not warned off this project at an early stage – he is doing himself and his future career in academia no favours. Charles Freeman. Author of Holy Bones, Holy Dust, How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe (Yale ,2011).

  • Dove says:

    One question: Was the initial shroud sample switched before distribution to the 3 testing labs by Dr. Michael Tite? It is aleged the samples were switched? See link below:

    New Trial – The Catholic Counter-Reformation in the 21st century
    In the centre is Dr Michael Tite; to his right , Professor Edward … sent to the laboratories, instead and in place of real samples from the shroud.” Tite’s …

    http://www.crc-internet.org/shroud3.htm

  • Charles Freeman says:

    I have read this before and haven’t’ laughed so much for ages! It shows just how desperate those who challenge the carbon-14 dates are! Nothing in these attempts to undermine the carbon-14 dating suggests that a revised Carbon14 would be first century. I must say I enjoy conspiracy theories but this is one of the better ones.
    I am not surprised STURP was eased out. After all they were a self-appointed group and I see no evidence of any of them having expertise in the specific area of textiles and radio-carbon14 dating. So if you are setting up an independent test you call in someone independent, like the British Museum, or any one of many other professional laboratories with expertise in linen conservation. This should have been done from the start.

    The real issue is that the Vatican did not appoint a recognised conservation body which could have selected samples and pigments under laboratory conditions from day one. ‘Dozens of pieces of sticky tape are pressed onto its surface and removed.’ This is Barry Schwortz’s report on the STURP examination- what kind of scientific examination of a work of art is this? The samples went off to the States, no one knows how much damage was done to the original linen and the image ( as pigments seem to have been removed) and there seems to have been little control of the examination of what was accumulated on the sellotape. The position was made even worse by Matt Frei’s pressing even harder with his sellotape (apparently to the horror of those observing him). In these circumstances, it was clearly better to hand things back to professionals and by-pass the STURP team.I am sure they were all worthy individuals but those with the appropriate expertise should only have been given samples in areas where they had specific expertise. All kinds of amateurs seem somehow to have got in on the act judging by some of the papers on the Shroud that I have read.

    Compare these two accounts.

    1) From the Nature Report, February 1989 – a report signed by 21 individuals including six who were recorded as being at the selection.

    ‘The sampling of the shroud took place in the Sacristy at Turin Cathedral on the morning of 21 April 1988. Among those present when the sample as cut from the shroud were Cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero (Archbishop of Turin), Professor L. Gonella (Department of Physics, Turin Polytechnic and the Archbishop’s scientific adviser), two textile experts (Professor F. Testore of Department of Materials Science, Turin Polytechnic and G. Vial of Musée des Tissues and Centre International d’Étude des Textiles Anciens in Lyon), Dr M. S. Tite of the British Museum, representatives of the three radiocarbon-dating laboratories (Professor P. E. Damon, Professor D. J. Donahue, Professor E. T. Hall, Dr R. E. M. Hedges and Professor W. Woelfli) and G. Riggi, who removed the sample from the shroud.
    The strip came from a single site on the main body of the shroud away from any patches or charred areas. Three samples, each ~50 mg in weight, were prepared from this strip….. All these operations, except for the wrapping of the samples in foil and their placing in containers, were fully documented by video film and photography.’

    In view of the numbers present and their professional qualifications in textiles and radio-carbon dating, this selection would seem to be a valid process. Note that Luigi Gonella was present but there is no record that he was involved in cutting the Shroud.

    2) And this from Raymond Rogers’ report in Thermochimica Acta (2005). I have no evidence that Raymond Rogers had any particular expertise in radio-carbon-14 procedures.

    ‘On 12 December 2003, I received samples of both warp and weft threads that Prof. Luigi Gonella had taken from the radiocarbon sample before it was distributed for dating. Gonella reported that he excised the threads from the center of the radiocarbon sample.’

    Note that the date he received these samples, the removal of which is not recorded in the original selection process, is over fifteen years later.I know Ray Rogers was obsessed with the Shroud but why should he and no one else have got these tiny fibres? When did Gonella take them from the sample? Did anyone see him doing so? Where had the fibres been since then, held under what conditions? How do we know that they were not contaminated along the way?

    So let’s not cast aspersions on anyone, let’s just say that the procedures by which the fibres arrived at the radio-carbon laboratories and Raymond Rogers’ laboratory fifteen years later were significantly different! The qualifications of each to assess radio-carbon-14 dating are also very different. Roger’s vague assertions about his fibres do not, of course, and he never claimed they did, provide an alternative date, nor do they provide any reason why a test on another part of the cloth should produce anything earlier than the medieval period. There is no reason to privilege Ray Rogers’ report above that of the Nature report although this is frequently done. It is obvious that his sample fails any kind of sampling procedure- so the mystery is how anyone could have passed his paper for peer-review. This is much more interesting that the conspiracy theories surrounding the unfortunate Dr. Tite..
    One of the things that continually amazes me is how many fragments taken from the image itself seem to be knocking around in peoples’ laboratories! The whole thing is a text-book example of how NOT to carry out valid scientific research- they should have been kept in the laboratory where they were removed and not handed around to all and sundry. And now we have ended up with a linen shroud with some kind of work on art on it which has been mauled around by people who had no specific expertise in conservation techniques. It is a sad story.

  • Andrew Larsen says:

    A small correction: Clement VII was not an Antipope. Europe was split about which line of popes were the legitimate line and which the antipopes. The Schism was resolved at the Council of Constance by declaring the removal of all three men claiming to be pope (including the Pisan pope, John XXIII), and the line of popes that began with Martin V and which continues to this day has never made any definitive statement about whether the Roman or Avignon popes were the legitimate line. None of Martin’s successors has ever taken a papal name used by the Roman or Avignon popes (so there haven’t been any Urbans or Clements since then), so they haven’t indicated with numbering whether one line was legitimate or not (If John Paul II’s successor had declared himself to be Clement VII, that would have been a statement that the Avignon popes were not legitimate. In the 20th century, John XXIII recycled the number of the second Pisan pope, thus indicating that that line of popes were not legitimate). Thus both the Roman pontiffs and the Avignon pontiffs are simply ‘popes’.

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      Corrected and updated!

      Many thanks for this. I would ask those who believe that this site is part of a vast conspiracy to suppress The Truth™ why it is that I am always happy to correct errors when they are brought to my attention. My aim for this site is accuracy, first and foremost. I cannot hope to be an expert in everything I try to deal with and there are times where I get things wrong. When I learn that something is incorrect, I’ll change it at the earliest opportunity. Surely, if there is a wide-ranging conspiracy, then correcting these details is irrelevant. If not, then where do I draw the line? Which errors of fact collide with the view of the conspiracy and which do not? How do I recognise whether or not the person offering the correction is in on the conspiracy or is not? We can’t exchange secret handshakes across the internet!

      I see this as a real problem for the conspiracy oriented. If some aspects of the past are subject to revision by the conspiracy, how do I know when to make a correction to an article, when I am not part of that conspiracy? Of course, this does not stop accusations being made that I am in fact part of the conspiracy. The state of my bank account ought to be ample evidence that I’m not!

  • Charles Freeman says:

    When I was writing my history of medieval relics, I looked at the Shroud of Turin, saw what a bearpit the debate was and left well alone. When i reviewed de Wesselow’s The Sign, I started looking at some of the so-called’research’ and I have too say that it is all rather fascinating but a completely closed off world. I had never read any Ian Wilson but was repeatedly told that he was the man who had sorted it. His latest The Shroud ( 2011), was at times simply hilarious as he jumped from one unproved assertion to another. His argument that the Edessa Image of Christ, first reported in the late sixth century, which was always said to be the face of Christ while alive, and is shown as such in later copies, is the same as the Turin Shroud which shows a dead man with his eyes closed is one of the most bizarre suggestions I have ever read! Even more bizarrely de Wesselow, a trained art historian, endorses it- though without giving any further reason for doing so, (De W seems to have been in thrall to Ian Wilson.) It is important for Bad Archaeology and others to try and apply historical and archaeological judgement to this one. I don’t know whether Jews (as they were in 30-33 AD) would have kept a blood-stained burial cloth but if they did and it had survived it would be the only one of the thousands of relics of the Passion and Crucifixion known in medieval Europe ever proved to be genuine. Now that would be a first!

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      You make a good point about (presumably conservative) Jews of the early first century AD, which we must assume that the followers of Jesus were: surely, a blood-stained cloth would be regarded as unclean and something to be avoided at all costs, not kept and revered. The whole idea of keeping relics is more logical in a later age, one where the return of Jesus in glory was no longer regarded as imminent: in the early days, his followers were expecting him to return in person, so there would have been no incentive to keep an unclean burial shroud.

  • Charles Freeman says:

    Thanks ,Keith. Just as Protestants today don’t give credence to relics- after all they burned all they could get their hands on at the Reformation- so there is no record of relics being venerated before about 380- although there is an earlier legend, reported in the 390s, of Helena finding the True Cross in the 320s. There was some veneration specifically of martyrs because their bodies were often rescued and buried and then ‘rediscovered’ when toleration came but what was kept of them was always any remains of the physical body. By Gregory the Great -pope 590-604, we have records of cloth being applied to bones – those of ‘Pete’r in Rome for instance, and then distributed.

    Once you are in the Shroud community, the Shroud is treated as if it were the only relic ever to have existed and no one places it within the wider world of the history of relics where ,of course, it is only one of thousands of relics of the Passion and Crucifixion recorded in medieval Europe, none of which had yet been shown to go back to the first century.

  • Charles Freeman says:

    My full historical analysis of the claims made by Ian Wilson and others can now be found at
    http://freeinquiry.com/skeptic/shroud/articles/freeman_shroud_edessa_misguided_journey/

    I would like information from Bad Archaeology re burial practices. It appears that the Pray Codex is simply representing contemporary Christian customs of crossing the hands over the genitals and the Turin Shroud creator may have been doing the same. Is there any evidence that this was a JEWISH burial practice as would need to be the case if the Shroud was authentic.
    I assume someone has checked the weave of the Shroud against what was being produced by Fatimid workshops of the day as so many pieces of Fatimid cloth, claiming to be first century originals, came into Europe after the First Crusade. I haven’t seen this addressed anywhere but it needs to be and would, of course, explain, any pollen from the Middle East on the cloth. The lack of olive pollen might suggest an Egyptian origin for the cloth- we know that the Veil of St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, brought back to Apt in the Vauclose in 1099 after the First Crusade was made just a few years before 1099 in the caliph’s workshops at Damietta, Egypt.

  • REGARDING THE BISHOP’S LETTER AGAINST THE SHROUD: I read on a shroud website that a well-known bishop’s letter from this time against the shroud was just a draft letter that was never sent. But this could be different than the one you mentioned.

    The bishop’s letter doesn’t say the bishop found the artist who painted it, so this could have been hearsay: someone could have told the bishop that the artist admitted painting it.

    YOU POINTED OUT THAT THE HINNON SHROUD had two types of cloth interweaved, unlike the shroud. However, I read that according to Jewish burial customs, this kind of interweaving two materials would contradict those customs.

    The Hinnom shroud was imported from abroad into Judea, according to the archeologists, and it’s worth pointing out that Joseph of Arimathea was an international merchant, according to tradition. So just because twill was not known in the Mideast from that time doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been imported into Judea too. Although admittedly this brings up a good question of whether twill even existed anywhere else at that time? (I do not know).

    YOU MENTIONED strips of linen being mentioned in the gospels, although as you pointed out earlier, it was also said that there were two pieces, one of which was a shroud. Perhaps there were all of these: a shroud wrapped in linen strips?

    YOU ALSO FOCUS ON THE LACK OF A SEPARATE HEAD CLOTH. Just because there is no separate head cloth along with the shroud doesnt mean it didn’t exist. The head cloth could simply have been taken elsewhere, and in fact there are also relics claiming to be this cloth.

    YOU MADE A GOOD POINT ABOUT THE LACK OF A NAVEL. I am not sure of a/the counterargument or explanation for this. You made a good point about the top of the head missing, but perhaps there was an object there that blocked the top of the head from being imprinted. Another good question you raised was “why the cloth has not draped itself around the sides of the body”.

    YOU SUMMED UP THE EVIDENCE BY SAYING “the de Charnay family accepted that the Lirey Shroud was an image”, but where did you mention this in the body of your article? Where is it recorded that they said this?

    SOME OF YOUR OTHER CONCLUDING POINTS SEEM GOOD, like the coincidence between the bishop’s letter being dated in the 14th century, the same century the radiocarbon dating pointed to. However, why do you feel a miraculous resurrection wouldn’t have affected the dating of the shroud?

    You raised a good question about the presence of vermillion, madder, and natron. Maybe the shroud’s proponents claim those might not be present?

  • Gary Sellars says:

    I only read a few paragraphs and found two glaring errors which should have been corrected long ago.

    Further research has been done on the Shroud and new, critical discoveries were made. If anyone is interested in the truth of the Shroud, it is now easy to find using the right keywords. I’d recommend that you start with “BBC Shroud of Turin” for their high def video of 59 min. Then search for more explanation of the details. This article is not reliable.

    The dating of 1260-13** was correct BUT it was a PATCH that was colored to match the Shroud and added during that time. It was NOT the body of the Shroud that was dated. It has since (the discovery of the patch) been dated and it does indeed date to the time of Jesus.

    So, ignore this piece of less than excellent journalism and do some better research.

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      No Gary, the radiocarbon date was not obtained from a patch: that is a lie being spread by those who want to promote the Shroud. The entire removal of threads was filmed and it is clear that the threads came from the original Shroud itself.

      If you are going to say that there are “two glaring errors which should have been corrected long ago”, you could at least be polite enough to point out what they are. Unless, that is, your comment is merely an attempt to poison the well.

      It is your comment that is based on poor research.

  • Charles Freeman says:

    The added on patch theory has long been discredited by the careful examination of the Shroud by Flury-Lemburg in 2002. F-L is a textile expert and says a patch could nt have been added on without showing up under modern analysis. Sadly many Shroud sites won”t tell you that and many assertions to the contrary are by people who have never even properly examined the Shroud close-up!
    The Shroud has not been dated to the time of Jesus despite several books which claim it was. The Turin authorities have condemned the recent work of Giuiio Fanti as worthless.
    I do appreciate ,from my own studies ,that it is difficult to keep up with the latest research on the Shroud as those studies that confirm it as medieval are not reported on the main proShroud sites and so it is extremely difficult for those interested in the Shroud to find out what the professional textile experts are saying. Better to stick to those how have expertise in ancient textiles and who have personally examined the Shroud. There are not that many- the biggest concentration of such professionals was at the choosing of the sample for carbon-14 dating in 2008. No gathering before or after has had the same amount of expertise in this field and the dating of textile samples.

  • Ed K says:

    I find both sides of the shroud argument interesting. Personally I hope it is “real”, but that is for my own reasons. Ray Rodgers made some interesting arguments about the possibility of cotton re-weaving – I guess the best way to find out for sure would be to re-test, perhaps with strands of cloth from close to the actual image, rather than from a corner. Until then, the debate continues….and makes for interesting reading…

  • Charles Freeman says:

    In addition to the article noted above, Ray Rogers’ theory , was thoroughly discredited in a) A New Radiocarbon Hypothesis by John Jackson from the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado (2008) who, at last, produced the radiographic photos from the STURP 1978 tests that showed that the weave in this area was not disrupted ( Jackson had a theory that the r/c dating was skewed by carbon monoxide but this was tested by the Oxford Lab and it was shown that carbon monoxide would have had no effect.) b) By Mechthild Flury-Lemberg in an article ‘ The Invisible Mending of the Shroud: The Theory and the Reality’ (also 2008)who examined this area of the Shroud closely in her 2002 cleaning and showed again that there was no reweaving. You need to read both these articles. Sadly, as I have said earlier, they are not advertised enough and so those coming to look at the Shroud for the first time are often misled into thinking that Rogers’ theory is credible. (In fact even if you read it for yourself you can see that it does not add up, especially as there is no evidence of any rewoven cotton ANYWHERE in the Shroud- there are only a few fibres.)

  • Scott Leikam says:

    I would recommend this paper, The Shroud: A Critical Summary of Observations, Data and Hypotheses. @ http://www.shroudofturin.com/Resources/SDTV1.3.pdf, produced by original member of STURP John Jackson along with other members of the The Shroud of Turin Research Center, as well as the Shroud of Turin website @ http://www.shroud.com/, supported by Photographer Barry Schwortz the lead photographer on the STURP team. I would suggest that these be the starting places for those that have an interest in the Shroud, whether it be those that believe and those that do not believe,

  • Charles Freeman says:

    I have had a brief look at this and it says nothing about the many objections that have been made about specific assertions made here. One would never known that the reweaving hypothesis had been so comprehensively demolished ,for instance. In addition to the two sources mentioned by me above, one by John Jackson himself (!), there is also an excellent paper by Mark Antonacci on the Shroud.com website for April 2005. (Search ‘Mark Antonacci Ray Rogers’ and you should find it.) It is written in fact by someone who believes in the authenticity of the Shroud so one can hardly blame the author for bias. There is no point in anyone beginning to learn about the Shroud unless the objections to the Shroud’s authenticity are placed alongside the others and additional evidence such as the complete lack of evidence that early Christians collected relics at all is woven in.One day the book will be written.

  • Oregonian says:

    The Catholic church has never deceived anyone about anything! (Sarcasm)

    • Celeste says:

      The Catholic Church is neutral on the subject of the Shroud, leaving it’s authenticity to science. They have never tried to deceive anyone about the Shroud. In fact , even in the 14th century they were refusing to allow anyone to claim it was the real image of Jesus, as is quoted in this article: “Clement VII issued four Bulls (dated 6 January 1390) permitting the exposition of the Shroud, with the caveat that it was not to passed off as the “True Shroud”…”

      • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

        Exactly. I point this out in the article. While the Shroud’s promoters are usually devout Christians (of many different types), the Church itself remains officially agnostic about it and, following the radiocarbon dating in 1988, even slightly embarrassed.

        • Charles Freeman says:

          The Catholic Church has, in fact, been remarkably consistent. In the 1390s, as noted in another post, it allowed the Shroud to be venerated so long as it was proclaimed before each exposition that it was not the genuine burial shroud of Jesus. Even when the Savoy family proclaimed it was the real thing, the Church continued to reiterate that they did not accept its authenticity (declaration of a papal congregation in 1670) but accepted that its validity as a memorial of what Christ had suffered. Pope Francis has reiterated that it is an object of veneration and will be treated as such in the exposition coming up in 2015. So, if the truth behind the origin of the Shroud is ever established, then the Church does not lose out either way. However, there are Catholic ( and other ) groups , who continue to argue for its authenticity. They seldom have experts in weaving, medieval iconography, or the ways in which relic cults worked in medieval times among their ranks. in fact, in many areas, serious research on the Shroud has hardly begun. With the last tests dating from as far back as 1978 and 1988, more sophisticated technology would sort out the date and the question of remaining pigments from any painting very quickly if the Vatican allowed new testing.

          • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

            Agreed. I have no problem with it being treated as a devotional object, similar in character to icons or statues of the saints, but when its promoters ride rough-shod over the evidence that it is a medieval production, I have to take issue with them. What we don’t know, of course, is whether its now anonymous creator intended to defraud people, as did the makers of so many relics, or actually intended it as an object for veneration. I have a nasty feeling, given the lucrative medieval trade in relics of dubious (not to say dishonest) origin, that it was the former.

          • Charles Freeman says:

            There were many objects that had ‘veneration’ status either because they had supposedly touched a genuine relic or because some miracle or even had been associated with them. Perugia still has a banner with the Madonna of Pity on it that is documented to having been made in 1464. However, when it was paraded at times of plague, it was said that the plague stopped so it was given an upgrade to an object of veneration even though no one claimed that it was an actual relic. My gut feeling is that the Shroud started like this. Actually to me , as a historian of relic cults, the most interesting thing is how it gained status as a ‘genuine’ relic . The Savoy family certainly promoted it as such, even if the Church refused to accept their claim, but what is surprising is the twentieth/twentieth century cults in its support. I leave that one to sociologists of religion.

          • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

            It wouldn’t surprise me if the twentieth-century belief in the authenticity of the Shroud has something to do with the increasing secularisation of knowledge, the search for physical evidence to underpin historical claims that partly drove the development of archaeology as a discipline, and increasing scepticism of “authority”. As you say, it’s a curious development in the history of the Shroud.

  • Dave says:

    I’ve gone to Dan Porter’s pingbacks and read his “rebuttals” against Keith’s comments, this brought me to other sites dealing with the shroud, both for and against its authenticity, and I’ve come to this conclusion: Those who believe the shroud is the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ will NEVER be convinced it’s a fake through scientific means. Their believing in the authenticity of the shroud comes from religious faith and science will never be able to shake that level of belief. They will always find something that allows them to reject the scientific findings, even if it’s refuted they’ll continue clinging to it as though it’s fact.

    The dating methods were inadequate. The fire in the middle ages permanently distorted the carbon dating because smoke from the fire permeated the cloth. Although some artists have duplicated the shroud they haven’t been able replicate the shroud perfectly. The samples were taken from a small patch from the middle ages. The samples were switched.

    This is faith and not science.

    • Amy Nieman says:

      The criticism of the carbon dating is based on evidence found by examining fibers taken from the sampled region, the color chromatography photos, and an observed gradient in the dates of the samples. One can agree or disagree with the conclusions, but those particular conclusions are based on evidence. The problem with the shroud all along is so many want to jump to a conclusion first, and then select the evidence that supports them.

  • Charles Freeman says:

    Everyone is waiting for some evidence that links the Shroud to the period 15 to 35 AD. Any sixteenth century reweaving of the Shroud, often proposed but with no significant evidence that that specific section of the Shroud was rewoven while all its other blemishes mysteriously were not, may simply have been of an earlier medieval cloth.

Agree or disagree? Please comment!