Mark Oxley has spent over three years carrying out detailed research on the history of the Shroud of Turin and on the scientific studies that have been carried out on it. A scientist by training with an avid interest in both classical and mediaeval history, he has used both disciplines to carry out an in-depth review of the current state of knowledge about the Shroud.
Over the years he has followed the scientific debate on the Shroud and particularly the controversy over its radio-carbon dating. It was this controversy in particular and some of the hypotheses that arose from it that eventually led to his decision to carry out further research and write his own outstanding book on the subject of the Shroud. (Amazon.com). It is a privilege to publish, here, his comments on the recent paper discussed below.
INITIALLY ADDRESSED TO THE SHROUD SCIENCE GROUP
Over the Christmas period I have taken the opportunity to read the recent paper in Radiocarbon, "Investigating a Dated Piece of the Shroud of Turin", by Timothy Jull and Rachel Freer-Waters. I have also re-read papers by Joe Marino and Sue Benford, Ray Rogers and John Brown that describe examinations of the Raes threads, the area where the radiocarbon samples were taken from and a radiocarbon sample itself from the Shroud that clearly show substantial contamination, as well as the 1989 paper by Danon et al, "Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin", of which Jull was one of the co-authors. Finally I also had a look at Bill Meacham’s 1986 paper "Radiocarbon Measurement and the Age of the Turin Shroud: Possibilities and Uncertainties".
In 2002 Ray Rogers and Anna Arnoldi published a paper "Scientific Method Applied to the Shroud of Turin: A Review" which not only describes chemical characteristics of the Raes threads but also a photographic examination of the area from where the radiocarbon samples were taken. It also gives very clear and well thought out guidelines to proper scientific thinking. The paper describes the presence of cotton in a Raes sample (also reported by Jull in his radiocarbon sample) and explains that cotton was almost unknown in Europe until 1350. This would suggest that if the Shroud material dates to before 1350, as even the radiocarbon dating shows is likely, it cannot be of European origin. It also describes how Rogers’ examination of the Shroud cloth showed that it had been produced using technology in use before the advent of large-scale bleaching and that this indicated a pre-mediaeval age for the Shroud. Rogers extended his work to a chemical examination of threads that had been taken from a radiocarbon sample before it was distributed for dating. He received these from Prof Luigi Gonella, who had taken them at the time the samples were cut from the Shroud. In his paper "Studies on the Radiocarbon Sample from the Shroud of Turin", published in Thermochimica Acta in 2005, Rogers describes chemical characteristics of Shroud fibres which indicate that it is considerably older than 700 years. He also describes a gum/dye/mordant coating on Raes and radicarbon sample yarns that he says is "easy to observe" and states that the radiocarbon sample has been dyed. The gum he describes as being water-soluble and easily-hydrolysed and says that it would have been removed completely by the cleaning procedures used on the dated samples.
I personally find Ray Rogers’ work utterly convincing. He describes in great detail the tests he carried out, the results he obtained and the conclusions he reached. His findings of impurities on the Raes threads is supported by a microscopic examination of Raes threads by John Brown, a retired research scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Brown’s paper "Microscopical Investigation of Selected Raes Threads from the Shroud of Turin", published in 2005, includes photographs that clearly show encrustations on the threads. Rogers’ work has shown that the Raes threads and the radiocarbon sample had similar chemical characteristics with regard to contamination.
Joe Marino and Sue Benford, in their paper "Discrepancies in the Radiocarbon Dating Area of the Turin Shroud", published in Chemistry Today in 2008, describe the results of an unpublished study carried out by STURP in 1978 as well as further analysis of Raes threads and a radiocarbon sub-sample from the Zurich laboratory, all of which provide additional evidence of contamination of the radiocarbon sample.
Jull dismisses all of this without any explanation and claims that those removing the samples for dating in 1988 were aware of repair material. As the suggestion that the samples were taken from an area where there was an invisible 16th century patch was only made in 2000, this is hardly likely. As the suggested patch was specifically made to be invisible to the naked eye, this make Jull’s assertion even more unlikely.
Jull states that his tests were carried out on fibres taken from a fragment remaining from the carbon-14 study in 1988. He states further that his sample is a fragment cut on the arrival of the Arizona carbon-14 sample in Tucson on 24 April 1988 by himself, and that it has been in his custody continously. At this point one has no alternative but to query the provenance of this fragment.
Damon et al reported that "Because it was not known to what degree dirt, smoke or other contaminants might affect the linen samples, all three laboratories subdivided the samples, and subjected the pieces to several different mechanical and chemical cleaning procedures." The Arizona group split each sample (the Shroud sample and the control samples) into four subsamples. These subsamples were then subjected to cleaning procedures described in detail by Damon et al. These procedures would undoubtedly have removed the contaminants reported by Rogers.
One has therefore to ask the question, did Jull take his sample before or after the cleaning process? Has he inadvertently used a cleaned fragment for his tests, which would of course totally invalidate his results. The complete contrast between his results and those of Rogers, Marino and Benford, and Brown would suggest that this must be considered a possibility. If his sample was in its original state, then the contrast between his results and those of other, equally reputable scientists defies explanation. It cannot just be brushed away.
It is my intention to prepare a short paper giving more detail of the work to which I refer above, as a rebuttal of Jull’s paper. I will post this in due course.
As a final note, it is worth referring to the exact match between the bloodstains on the Sudarium of Oviedo and the image on the Shroud, which was referred to in the documentary The Real Face of Jesus and which is described in detail by G H Moreno et al in their paper "Comparative Study of the Sudarium of Oviedo and the Shroud of Turin" presented to the Third International Congress for the Study of the Shroud of Turin in 1998. As the Sudarium has a recorded history of some 1 300 years, this is further evidence of a pre-mediaeval date for the Shroud.