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Major New Find Bolsters Shroud of Turin Believers
BY SHAFER PARKERRegister Correspondent
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — New research
provides evidence that the 1988 radiocarbon testing of the Shroud of Turin was
done on material added to the shroud in the Middle Ages.
Mention the Shroud of Turin at
almost any public gathering and someone is sure to remark that carbon-14
testing in 1988 by three separate laboratories in Switzerland, England and the
United States “proved” it to be a fake relic from the late Middle Ages.
Less well known is that
questions were immediately raised regarding the tests’ reliability.
Shroud researchers wanted to
know why only one material sample was used. That created a situation in which
one test was done three times.
And why was the sample taken
from an area near the edge prone to contamination from repeated handling? That
sample was also near a water stain and a charred area from a cathedral fire in
Now chemist Raymond Rogers, a
fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, has published
research showing the carbon-14 testing done in 1988 was, in fact, not done on
the original burial cloth, but rather on a patch that in the Middle Ages had been
cleverly re-woven into the border area, thus creating an erroneous date for the
In an article published in a
recent edition of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Thermochimica Acta, Rogers further reveals that he has
found a way to date the linen material in the main part of the shroud to
somewhere between 1,300 and 3,000 years old, making it much too old to be a
Rogers found that flax, the
plant from which linen fibers are derived, contains a chemical compound called
lignin, which, as it decomposes over time, produces another substance called
vanillin. The amount of vanillin left in linen material can serve as a rough
guide to its age.
The backing cloth, which was
sewed onto the shroud in the 16th century, showed about 37% of vanillin left in
the flax growth nodes, a result consistent with other linens from the Middle
But the complete disappearance
of all traces of vanillin from the shroud proper, a characteristic of linens
discovered with the Dead Sea Scrolls, indicates a much older age than
radiocarbon dating did.
Nevertheless, Rogers cautioned
that he has not proven the shroud’s age with any degree of certainty.
“My approach to age testing has
been blown all out of proportion by the news media,” he said. “I can’t speak
with precision, since I don’t know the temperature at which the shroud has been
stored all these years. But I can say that, unless it was stored in an oven,
it’s sure as heck older than 400 or 500 years.”
Rogers argued that the shroud
itself is the best proof that the 1988 testing was erroneous.
As an original member of the
Shroud of Turin Research Project, an international team of scientists that
examined the shroud for an intense five-day period in 1978, he had taken 32
adhesive-tape fiber samples from all areas of the cloth, including patches and
backing cloth. He later obtained samples from the material used for the
Microscopic examination and
chemical testing showed that, unlike the main portion of the shroud, the radiocarbon
sample had been dyed, using a technology that began to appear in Italy about
the time the Crusaders’ last bastion fell to the Turks in 1291, possibly to
make it blend with the older material into which it was woven.
The “radiocarbon sample contains
both a gum/dye/mordant coating and cotton fibers,” Rogers wrote in his journal
article. “The main part of the shroud does not contain these materials.”
Msgr. Giuseppe Ghiberti, president of the Shroud Commission of the
Archdiocese of Turin, disputed Rogers’ findings, telling an Italian interviewer
that during an official restoration of the shroud two years ago the backing was
removed and “there [was] no sign of a mend.” Msgr. Ghiberti
also noted that Swiss textile expert Mechthild Flury-Lemberg, who oversaw the shroud’s recent restoration,
had “examined the shroud” and had “absolutely not seen any sign of added
To which Rogers replied, “She
says she looked at it closely. But she did no chemical analysis, no
spectrometry, no microscopy. If she had just looked at the [radiocarbon-tested]
fibers under a microscope, she would have seen they were totally different from
the main part of the cloth. But she didn’t go to that trouble.”
Rogers said he undertook his
research because he was skeptical of claims that newer material had somehow
been seamlessly woven into the shroud. “I thought I’d prove the re-weaving
claims were nonsense,” he said. “It’s embarrassing to have to agree with people
from the lunatic fringe who made these pronouncements.”
But facts are facts, and Rogers
has the photographic proof of a spliced thread from the radiocarbon material in
which “the two ends of the splice are completely different. One is fluffy and
white; the other end is stained and tightly twisted.”
Embarrassing as Rogers’ work may
be for those responsible for the 1988 radiocarbon tests, it is nevertheless
forcing a second look at the evidence.
In an e-mail interview with the
BBC, Msgr. Ghiberti stated that the Pope himself
would have to rule on whether further tests would be allowed in light of the
But in an official comment on
Rogers’ work, Msgr. Ghiberti later stated that while
“caution is obligatory in order to avoid rash conclusions,” he had concluded
that “Dr. Rogers’ observations are very interesting and certainly provide a
basis for further investigation and studies on the chemical characteristics of
the cloth and the possibility that it isn’t all the same.”
Shafer Parker writes
from Edmonton, Alberta.
The Shroud of Turin is a large
sheet of fine linen 14 feet long and approximately 3½ feet wide, containing the life-sized
negative image (a concept not understood until the invention of photography) of
a crucified man, front and back.
For many centuries the shroud
has been venerated as the actual winding sheet that covered Jesus’ body after
his death and before his resurrection.
Its first documented display
came in the French village of Lirey in 1357, fitting
nicely with the 1988 carbon-14 tests that established the artifact’s possible
dates as ranging between 1260 and 1390, and inadvertently adding weight to the
theory that the shroud had been created during that period.
But historians have begun to
piece together a more complete history for the shroud, linking it by means of
shared blood-spatter patterns, shared blood type (AB) and shared pollen samples
to the Sudarium of Oviedo, the cloth that supposedly
covered Jesus’ face before the body was taken from the cross, and which has a
documented history dating back to earliest Christian times.
Other details about the shroud
make the medieval forgery theory seem unlikely.
" The actual
image, which lies on the very surface of the linen fibers at a depth less than
100 times as thick as a human hair, is the result not of paint or any sort of
pigment, but of rapid dehydration — rapid, yet made without heat — of the
natural cellulose present in the fibers.
" It shows the
nail holes placed not in the palms but in the wrists, a position necessary to
support the crucified man’s full body weight — a fact not known to medieval
" 24 to 28
flower images and matching pollen samples have been identified on the shroud,
all from the vicinity of Jerusalem.
" The calcite
gravel in the foot area is found in only two places in the world, one in a
remote part of Africa and the other near the Sheep Gate that leads from
Jerusalem to Golgotha, indicating that whoever lay in the shroud had recently
walked either on the road to Calvary or in uninhabited Africa.
" Even the
continued existence of the shroud points to its having an extraordinary origin.
Most such wrappings from the period disappeared when left to deteriorate along
with the body they contained. If the shroud is a “witness to the Resurrection,”
as it has been called, it wouldn’t suffer from the usual problems.
there is the shroud’s distinctive weave and style, which experts have
determined comes only from the Dead Sea area from a limited period of time
spanning from approximately 40 B.C. to 70 A.D.
So, has science proven that the Shroud
of Turin is, in fact, the shroud that covered the crucified body of Jesus of
“That’s not the purpose of
science,” said chemist Raymond Rogers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New
Mexico. “It can never prove that the shroud is genuine, but so long as it
remains unable to prove it a fake, there remains a finite probability that it
is Jesus’ shroud.”
— Shafer Parker