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The Shroud of Turin

Part 1:

2004: Dating the shroud using its vanillin
by Ray Rogers of the Los Alamos
National Laboratory

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"As unlikely as it seems, the sample used to test the age of the shroud in 1988 was taken from a rewoven area of the shroud." Ray Rogers. 1


"This incident just underlines the fact that the Shroud of Turin will never go away, and believers will try anything, including arguments masquerading as science, to prove its authenticity." Jay Ingram, host of Daily Planet of the Canadian Discovery Channel. 2


"Science has proved the Shroud of Turin a medieval fake, but defenders of authenticity turn the scientific method on its head by starting with the desired conclusion and working backward to the evidence—picking and choosing and reinterpreting as necessary. It is an approach I call 'shroud science'." Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow, CSICOP. 3

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Ray Rogers is a retired chemist, a Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and a long-time believer that the shroud is an actual burial cloth of a crucified man which dates from the first century CE. He accepts a well known theory -- believed by many who reject the Carbon-14 dating of the shroud in 1988 -- that the small sample of the shroud which was submitted for testing was not actually a piece of the original shroud. It was either:


A piece of cloth that had been used to patch a damaged portion of the shroud, or


A mixture of cloth -- part actual shroud and a part patch.

Rogers said:

"As unlikely as it seems, the sample used to test the age of the shroud in 1988 was taken from a rewoven area of the shroud. Indeed, the patch was very carefully made. The yarn has the same twist as the main part of the cloth, and it was stained to match the color." 1

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It is difficult to conceive how scientists, who were given the task of removing a representative sample from the shroud for testing, could have removed cloth from a patched section. But that is the belief of many, of not most, of the members of the STURP team -- a group of American scientists who started to study the shroud in 1978. It would have been an act of extreme carelessness and lack of attention to detail. Describing the C-14 sample collection, scientist P.E. Damon indicated that textile experts took care to select a site from which to take the sample that was some distance from patches and seams. 4 Presumably, the experts' eye sight was not sufficiently degraded that they were all legally blind.

Rogers believes that the Carbon-14 results measured by three laboratories in 1988 are thus closer to the date when the shroud was repaired than to the date when it was originally woven from fibres of the flax plant.

In the past, various methods of estimating the age of the shroud were considered:


The color of the linen is one potential indicator. Linen develops a gradually deepening sepia color over time. Unfortunately, bleaching methods have changed over the centuries, and so no accurate age measurements could be made.


Flax fibers collect defects over time from radiation in its environment. Unfortunately, background radiation varies from place to place. This would be a very subjective measurement.


Carbon-14 radiometric measurements have had an excellent track record and are the analytical technique of choice. When this type of measurement is made on a carbon-based sample of known age, the measured age is close to the actual age.

Rogers developed a new method of dating linen based on its vanillin (a.k.a. 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde) content. Lignin is a chemical compound present in the flax. Vanillin is a breakdown product of the lignin. As linen ages, the vanillin content declines and eventually becomes undetectable. Thus, by measuring the amount of vanillin remaining on the cloth, one might be able to estimate the age of the cloth.

Rogers believes that vanillin is detectable in the sample taken for radiocarbon testing. Thus, he concluded that it must date from medieval times. He believes that vanillin is also present in the "Holland cloth" used to patch the shroud. But he could not detect it in material taken from the rest of the shroud. He concludes that the sample submitted to Carbon-14 testing:

"... cannot be older than about 1290 [CE], agreeing with the age determined by carbom-14 dating in 1988. However the shroud itself is actually much older....A determination of the kinetics of vanillin loss suggests that the shroud is between 1,300 and 3,000 years old" 1

That is, the flax which made up the shroud was harvested between about 1000 BCE and 700 CE. He concludes that the shroud could have been the burial sheet of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) who was executed about 30 CE ± 3 years by the Roman Army.

There also exists a method called pyrolysis mass spectrometry which Rogers had used recently for other testing of the Shroud of Turin. 5 It has been shown to generate extremely precise quantitative measurements of carbohydrates, such as vanillin. Unfortunately, he allegedly chose to use a qualitative analysis method: He stained a sample of the shroud in his home laboratory using phloroglucinol–hydrochloric-acid reagent. If a significant amount of vanillin is present, the reagent changes its color. In spite of the lack of accuracy of the measurement, he concluded that the shroud could date to the lifetime of Yeshua of Nazareth. He published a report in the journal Thermochimica Acta a chemistry peer reviewed journal, on 2005-JAN-20. 6

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Skeptical responses to Rogers dating method:

Carbon 14 is the classical method of measuring the age of carbon-bearing materials. It is based on sound science -- the precise rate at which Carbon 14 decays to Carbon 16. But before it could be used to date real materials, it had to be calibrated by using the technique on samples whose ages were independently known. Rogers has not performed this type of calibration on vanillin analysis. This would seem to make his measurements of no value.

Some specific criticisms of Roger's work:

  • According to Jay Ingram, host of the Daily Planet TV science program on the Discovery Channel:

    "He's got things completely backwards. He is supposed to be testing the shroud to see how old it is, not deciding in advance that it is older and then concluding that vanillin might be a good clock to prove it. This is bad science. The only way this could be taken seriously would be if Rogers had tested a wide variety of cloths, [of known ages], decided that dwindling amounts of vanillin served as a clock, then -- and only then -- tested the shroud." Ingram also criticized the 'Staining is a rough guide to the presence of vanillin and cannot detect very small amounts'." 1

  • Malcolm Campbell, a botanist at the University of Toronto said:

    "In biological sciences, a scientist would be hard pressed to get their paper published if they ever attempted to quantify vanillin on the basis of this staining technique." 1

    As noted above, Roger's paper was published in a chemistry journal.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Rossella Lorenzi, "Face on the Shroud: Turin Shroud Older Than Thought," Discovery Channel, 2005-FEB-09, at:
  2. Jay Ingram. "Hard to keep a good shroud story down," The Toronto Star, 2005-FEB-05, Page F5.
  3. Joe Nickell, "Claims of Invalid “Shroud” Radiocarbon Date Cut from Whole Cloth," Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, at:
  4. P.E. Damon, et al. 1989. "Radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin," Nature 337 (1989-FEB),  Pages 611 to 615.
  5. Raymond Rogers, "Pyrolysis/Mass Spectrometry applied to the Shroud of Turin," 2004 at:
  6. Raymond Rogers, "Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the shroud of turin [sic]," Tehermochimica Acta, 2005-JAN-20, Pages 189 to 194. Online by Science Direct, at: Also in PFD format at:

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Home page >  World religions > Christianity > Christian history.. > Shroud > here

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Copyright © 2005 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-FEB-05
Latest update: 2015-OCT-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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