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The Shroud of Turin

Part 2

2004: Dating the shroud using its vanillin
content
by Ray Rogers of the Los Alamos
National Laboratory. Some criticism
and reactions:

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay.

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Some specific criticisms of Roger's work (Continued):

  • Joe Nickel, Senior Research Fellow at the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) wrote:

    "In fact, the radiocarbon sample...was destroyed by the testing. Rogers (2005) relied on two little threads allegedly left over from the sampling, together with segments taken from an adjacent area in 1973. He cites pro-authenticity researchers who guessed that the carbon-14 sample came from a 'rewoven area' of repair—'As unlikely as it seems,' Rogers admitted to one news source....Rogers compared the threads with some small samples from elsewhere on the Shroud, claiming to find differences between the two sets of threads that 'prove' the radiocarbon sample 'was not part of the original cloth' of the Turin shroud....The reported differences include the presence—allegedly only on the 'radiocarbon sample'—of cotton fibers and a coating of madder root dye in a binding medium that his tests 'suggest' is gum Arabic. He insists the sampled area was that of an interwoven medieval repair that was intentionally colored to match the 'older, sepia-colored cloth'....However, Rogers’ assertions to the contrary, both the cotton and the madder have been found elsewhere on the shroud. Both were specifically reported by famed microanalyst Walter McCrone...who was commissioned to examine samples taken by the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP). After McCrone discovered the image was rendered in tempera paint, STURP held him to a secrecy agreement, while statements were made to the press that no evidence of artistry was found. McCrone was then, he says, 'drummed out' of the organization." 1

  • Steven D. Schafersman is a consulting scientist and administrator of the Skeptical Shroud of Turin Website. He wrote an article containing a skeptical response to Dr. Rogers studies in the Free Inquiry magazine. Dr. Schafersman said:

    "All truly scientific dating methods, including radiocarbon dating, have a level of evidentiary support and verification--which scientists refer to as using controls, replication, and calibration if necessary -- that Rogers' new method of vanillin concentration does not. Instead, Rogers concluded--using the questionable sources of Benford and Marino--that the supposed "patch" first existed and was therefore younger than the rest of the Shroud before he developed his new dating method. Then he developed his new but faulty dating method so that it would validate his a priori belief! Rogers did test his method by aging lignin samples at elevated temperatures for 24 months, but this is laughably inadequate. He was not able to adequately calibrate his exponential decay curve, an essential part of any proxy chemical dating method. Nor was he able to eliminate or correct for the many different temperatures and environmental conditions the Shroud has been exposed to during its existence, all of which would explicitly make his chemical method useless. ..."

    "As is well known from historical sources, the Shroud has been exposed to several fires, boiled in water, and perhaps even boiled in oil. The boiling treatments were used by skeptical individuals in a pre-scientific age to test the authenticity of the Shroud and other supposed Shrouds, of which there were several dozen at that time! That the Shroud of Turin was subjected to at least one water boiling is discussed in several books that relate its history; fake Shrouds would have had their paint boiled off, but the Shroud of Turin was apparently the only Shroud to pass the boiling test, because its creator used an unusual and clever method to make sure it that was quite sturdy; its image was originally much brighter and visible, but the boiling left the pale, ghostly, thin reddish image we have today that must be photographed through a filter to reveal the image with sufficient contrast. In conclusion, there is no reason to accept Rogers' vanillin-in-lignin method as a valid scientific technique for precise age determination. His claim that it does provide a good age is incompetent nonsense." 2

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Some readers' remarks on the BBC News article about the vanillin testing:

The author(s) of BBC article asked their readers:

"What is your reaction to the new evidence? Do you believe the Turin shroud is Christ's burial cloth or do you think it is a hoax? You sent us your comments."

Webmaster's comment:

I feel that the question asked may have biased the results received. There are not two alternatives; there are more: The Shroud could be the burial cloth of Jesus. It could have been the burial cloth of some other executed victim dating from the same period. It could have been a hoax, manufactured during the middle ages to trick people. It could have been simply an icon -- a work of art intended to inspire religious thought.

Readers of the BBC article posted some interesting remarks. 3 A few are:

  • "Richard:" "Time heals all wounds, solves all mystery, and buries all truth. There are always two sides to every story. This debate will only be solved after UFOs and the Kennedy assassination [are solved]. The human nature and nature of humanity that allows us as a mammal to have such relics to debate over is the true miracle."

  • Frank Wognum: "Who cares? Even if it is proven that the shroud dates to circa 33 AD, what does that prove? Absolutely nothing! It simply proves that you have a 2000-year-old burial shroud. Historically interesting, yes, and relatively unique, but the connection between this cloth and Jesus Christ is stretching the imagination so far as to be ridiculous."

  • "Adam: "I would like to look at who sponsored the research - but even if this evidence is correct, it in no way substantiates that the image is that of Jesus. The fact that it appears to be an imprint of a person who died in a similar fashion is not conclusive. Thousands died in this unimaginable way around the same period. But as a medical and historical artifact it is no less fascinating."

  • Joan Whyte: "I think it could well be Christ's burial cloth, and it should be tested properly now to establish this once and for all before the fabric becomes too fragile. Surely this would be in the interests of Christians worldwide and not just those adhering to the Roman Catholic faith."

There were two postings that raise interesting questions of the validity of traditional Christian teachings if the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus:

  • J.S. Walker: "I believe the most interesting fact concerning the Turin Shroud is that it bears blood stains. If so, this would show that Jesus was not actually dead when he was wrapped in it, and that Christian theology has been based on a false premise, and it would enable us to analyse his DNA and identify his descendants."

  • Gareth Griffith: "The new evidence is interesting in what it may say about the cloth, but as a Christian I've never been surprised at any test showing that the Turin shroud was not Christ's burial cloth. In John 20:6-7, the cloth wrapped around Christ's head is clearly separate from the strips wound around his body. So, any cloth showing both head and body (as the Turin shroud does) can't be the real thing."

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Path forward on a vanillin test:

One method of accurately dating the shroud would be to assemble a group of skilled scientists:
bullet

Some who are devout believers that the shroud dates to the first century CE;

bullet

Others who are skeptics who consider the shroud to have been created as a piece of artwork -- either as a fraud or as a religious icon -- in the fourteenth century; and

bullet

Others who are genuinely undecided about the age of the shroud.

They would first develop a consensus on a precise protocol for sampling the actual shroud. The material would be removed and submitted to a group of world-class Carbon-14 labs for accurate dating.

Alternatively, a dozen or so shrouds of know ages dating from the first century CE to the present time could have their vanillin levels measured using a quantitative technique like pyrolysis mass spectrometry. That would produce a calibration curve. If the data was found to be reproducible, then a vanillin test could be used on samples of the shroud to obtain an accurate measure of its age in parallel with Carbon-14 tests.

One hopes that the Roman Catholic Church will permit additional testing on the shroud. Still, additional data is unlikely to produce a consensus. Beliefs on all sides have hardened and are essentially unchangeable.

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References used:

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

  1. Joe Nickell, "Claims of Invalid “Shroud” Radiocarbon Date Cut from Whole Cloth," Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, at: http://www.csicop.org/
  2. S. D. Schafersman, "A Skeptical Response to Studies on the Radiocarbon Sample from the Shroud of Turin ...,""Free Inquiry, 2005-FEB-08, at: http://freeinquiry.com/
  3. "Turin shroud 'older than thought'," BBC News, 2005-JAN-31, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/

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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-OCT-26
Latest update: 2015-OCT-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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