ST. LOUIS — If the Shroud of Turin really is the burial shroud of Jesus, more is now known about his passion and entombment.
New findings suggest that his crown of thorns was woven from a local thistle bush, and his bloody body was strewn with spring flowers before it was buried, flowers freshly picked from the fields around Jerusalem or bought in the streets from traveling vendors.
Plants and pollen embedded in the Shroud of Turin have been traced to the area around Jerusalem and dated to before the eighth century, according to a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The findings contradict a decade-old carbon dating examination of a shroud fragment that placed its origins in the years between 1260 and 1390, a finding which was disputed recently by scientists in Virginia who say a 16th-century fire that heated the shroud would have altered the carbon data.
The wounds that help form the man's image on the yellowing linen cloth measuring 14.5 by 3.9 feet closely match those described in Gospel accounts of Christ's passion.
The newest findings are the result of recently completed tests of evidence of flowers that was discovered five years before the 1988 carbon dating.
In presenting his results Aug. 2 in St. Louis, Dr. Avinoam Danin, a botanist and expert on the plant life of Israel, said that the floral images and pollen grains found on the shroud serve as “geographic and calendar indicators.”
He said the flowers “could have been picked up fresh in the fields. A few of the species could be found in the markets of Jerusalem in the spring of the year.”
“This combination of flowers can be found in only one region of the world; the evidence clearly points to a floral grouping from the area surrounding Jerusalem,” Danin said in a presentation to the International Botanical Congress.
Colleagues determined several of the floral and pollen species found on the shroud bloomed in what is now Israel between May and March, and that another must have been picked in the Judean desert or the Dead Sea valley between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on the day they were placed on the shroud.
A type of pollen from a thistle visible near the shoulder of the man's image on the shroud was believed to be the plant used for Jesus'crown of thorns, the researchers said.
John Iannone, author of The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin (Alba House, 1998) and president of the Holy Shroud Task Force of Tarpon Springs, Fla,, spoke with the Register about the findings.
Rinaldi: How new is the information that has just been released? Haven't we heard about pollen on the shroud before?
Iannone: Back in 1973 and 1978, pollen was discovered on the shroud by a Swiss criminologist Dr. Max Frei. He had identified about 58 species, 28 of which he said came from the Holy Land area and the rest from areas of Turkey and Constantinople, where we know the later history of the shroud to be.
Then, in about 1983 Dr. Alan Whanger from Duke University noted that there were floral images with new techniques in contrast photography. He noted that there was an image of a chrysanthemum and then he discovered more and more but, not being an expert in botany, he later called in an expert botanist in Israel, Dr. Avinoam Danin, who teaches at Hebrew University, and Dr. Uri Baruch, who is with the Israeli antiquities authority. He's an expert in the pollen, and Danin is an expert in the flowers of Israel.
What did they find?
Actually what they did is look at these 28 species and agreed that these were flowers which bloom in the Holy Land and specifically at least three or four were indigenous to the Holy Land, meaning that they grow no where else. For example, Danin identified the chrysanthemum which was to the side of the head. He identified a bouquet of rock rose which was to the side of the face on the shroud, and he identified … a bean caper plant very specific to the Holy Land. More recently … a thorn or thistle bush.
Danin then said clearly the provenance of this cloth was the Holy Land, in his announcement made in the last couple of days.
There's another cloth, in Oviedo, Spain, that some call the face cloth of Jesus. What is the connection here?
They are in two different locations and they are two different pieces of cloths but the Oviedo cloth is a face cloth and the shroud, of course, is an entire 14-foot, 3-inch cloth. But what they discovered was that these two cloths were in touch with the same face, because the Oviedo cloth does not have an image but it does have blood stains and serum stains which match the blotting stains that we find on the shroud, No. 1. And No. 2, the type of blood has now been identified on both cloths as AB. AB blood is the rare type of blood, only 3.2 % of the world has [it] … and the vast majority of these cases are in the Middle East and specifically in northern Palestine. So that was another area where in the blood studies they could focus in on an area of the world and say the cloths [were] from this area.
What Danin has shown is that these two cloths are related and the Oviedo cloth has a known history going back to at least the seventh century, so if the two cloths covered the same individual they clearly predate the carbon-14 test date of medieval era.
Can you describe for us how the two cloths were used in the burial?
One custom was that if the face was in any way to be covered, as certainly the victims of crucifixion would be, there would be a cloth placed over the head or actually around the head while the individual was still on the cross, after he had died, and that would remain until the body was actually carried to the tomb — much the way, if you had seen someone died on the street, you might cover their face out of respect.
Then, when the body reached the tomb, this cloth would be taken off and put to one side and they would be laid in the larger shroud. In fact, in the Gospel of John, when they talk about the cloth that had been rolled up and folded to one side, we believe that would be … the cloth that is in Oviedo, Spain.
So, now we have found that the blood stains on the shroud and this cloth are similar and also the pollen stains?
Let's get back to this carbon dating in 1988. They did the carbon test that placed the shroud in the medieval era. They used a corner of the shroud and no attention was given to the other head cloth that can be traced to exist 700 or 800 years before the test results?
In 1988 the carbon community had convinced the Turin authorities that they could utilize a very small piece of cloth — actually about a postage [stamp] size piece of cloth — and through that with the carbon dating method could put a date on it. … They took four but they used three in the test and kept one aside. Four small pieces of cloth on the lower edge of the shroud which is a highly contaminated area where it's handled, of course.
In their testing they said, “Well, this cloth would date from about 1250 to about 1390, somewhere in that range.” The problem at the time was that this information was not balanced against so much other information that we had, a lot of which fortunately is now becoming clear. It was kind of accepted by a lot of people to be the final date. What has happened in the past three or four years, beside the studies on the blood, which we'll get into shortly, and the pollen, which I just mentioned, was that the carbon [dating] community began to notice that they were having some serious problems in the dating of linen cloths in general.
For example, in the Journal of Radio Carbon, they reported that they had done a test on an Egyptian mummy — a mummy of a bull with a known date of 3000 B.C. When they separated the mummy from the linen they found that the linen was 1,500 years younger by carbon dating than the carcass of the bull mummy that had been buried.
So everyone said something is seriously wrong here, so they tried another test with a mummy in Manchester, England, a 13-year-old girl … and they found a similar problem. There was a 1,000-year discrepancy between the linen and the mummy that had been wrapped.
More recently, they did the same with an Egyptian bird … and they found a 500-year discrepancy. So, at that point we all went back to them and said, “Wait a minute. At what point does an anomaly become a continuous problem with the dating of linen?” And many of the carbon group began to agree that the problem seemed to be shifting from “was there an error?” — which we now believe there was — to, “what might account for that error?”
There are two theories today that are very strong, I believe. They are very much linked on 1532. There was a very serious fire in the cathedral in France where the shroud was before Turin, and this fire did some damage. When you look at the shroud you see the long parallel scorch marks on both sides of the body. That was from the fire of 1532 and in 1994 a couple of Soviet chemists did what we call a “fire model.”
With an ancient cloth they re-created the fire of 1532 and found that what it did, was it carbonized the shroud. It added carbon isotopes which reversed the carbon-14 test. It makes it look younger than it really is and they said that clearly the fire of 1532 had an impact on the dating of the cloth.
They said it may not be enough to account for 1,300 years, but what has happened in the past few years? The most prominent theory now is that a doctor in Texas, his name is Dr. Gaza Valdez, a microbiologist, working with ancient artifacts from the Maya Indians discovered that very often on linen there are colonies of microbes — you know, micro-organisms, bacteria and fungus — and he's said they leave what he calls a bioplastic coating. Its like a sheen, almost as if you took a piece of linen and laminated it.
He did the same test on the some of the fibers left over from the shroud's 1988 test and discovered that growing on the shroud of Turin today are these colonies of micro-organisms and these are living organism which coat the fibers of the shroud. They leave this plasticlike coating which we now know does not come off with the carbon cleaning protocol, and the carbon scientist for the first time have admitted and acknowledge that they never noticed this carbon micro-organism coating when they cleaned the fibers of the shroud back in 1988 because it is clear, you see right through it. They really didn't know they were looking through it rather than at it, so now they are trying to find ways that this might be cleaned off and separated.
But clearly, Dr. Valdez and Dr. Harry Gould, who is a physicist in Rochester, N.Y., have said this really very much could have effected the carbon dating test on the shroud in 1988. Now that combined with the latest blood studies and the latest pollen studies and other studies really move the date of the cloth.
NEXT WEEK: What it was like in the Hebron Valley in March and April at the dawn of the first millennium.
Rich Rinaldi is director of Register Radio News.