Home > News & Views, Science > An Interview with Paolo Di Lazzaro

An Interview with Paolo Di Lazzaro

December 30, 2011

imageTom Chivers in The Telegraph:

A week or two ago I wrote about the Shroud of Turin, after a new study by Italian scientists was trumpeted in the media as apparently showing it really was the burial cloth of Christ. Naturally, it did no such thing: it showed that marks similar to those on the Shroud could be made using ultraviolet light. It’s very interesting, but not proof of divine origin – especially in the light of radiocarbon dating results which put the Shroud at around 800 years old, which Prof Christopher Ramsey of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit tells me we have no reason to doubt.

After I’d written it, one of the lead authors of the Italian study, Dr Paolo Di Lazzaro, got in touch to ask for a correction, which I happily made (specifically, I’d said the authors claimed that their method was "the only" way the Shroud image could have been made – they didn’t). He also kindly agreed to a brief email interview about what he thought his study meant. I’ll reprint his answers in full below:

Full Interview: The Shroud of Turin: forgery or divine? A scientist writes

• You’ve been able to create very similar effects to the Shroud’s markings using ultraviolet light. Is this the most plausible way the original markings were made? What are the alternatives?

You are right: we obtained a coloration “similar” to that of the body image on the Shroud. “Similar” means that it replicates several peculiar characteristics of the Shroud image, including the shallow penetration depth and the hue of color, the lack of fluorescence, and the absence of heating effects on the image formation. However, our coloration still does not match 100 per cent of the physical and chemical characteristics of the Shroud image. Till now, nobody was able to replicate all the body image characteristics. This inability to repeat (and therefore falsify) the image on the Shroud makes it impossible to formulate a reliable hypothesis on how the body image was made. As a consequence, we cannot state ultraviolet light is the most plausible way the original marking was made. Certainly, the radiation-based attempts (ultraviolet light, corona discharge, protons) gave coloration results which are much closer to the Turin Shroud image than the contact paint or chemical attempts are. In particular, the recent results obtained by Prof Garlaschelli using acid, powders and paints show the incapacity of chemistry-based attempts to match the original characteristics at the microscopic level.

• It’s been reported that your research shows that the Shroud was not a "medieval fake". Do you agree with that assessment?

As discussed in the previous answer, all the attempts to replicate the body image on the Shroud were partially (often totally) unsuccessful. We must admit it is not easy creating an image that is negative, has 3D encoded information, is extremely shallow, with the color intensity is determined by the surface density of fibrils all having the same RGB value, and which does not fluoresce under UV illumination. Modern technologies seem unable to produce an image with the characteristics of the Shroud image, even using the most advanced tools like those used in our experiments. As a consequence, it is unlikely that a forger could have created this image using technologies available in the Middle Ages. In addition, we must consider the body image is not the only difficult-to-replicate marking. On the Shroud there are also stains of blood with high levels of bilirubin which would be consistent with a haemolytic process caused by torture, eg whipping (the bilirubin content being only visible by UV lamps, such as those used by policemen to detect organic traces), there is the absence of image under the blood stains, and many other forensic details unknown in the Middle Ages.

• When I spoke to Prof Ramsey, he said that the radiocarbon dating results putting it at 1260 – 1390AD were reliable, and that the suggestions of contamination or medieval repair were unlikely. Do you agree with that?

I have no experience of radiocarbon dating. As a consequence, I have to accept the opinion of Prof Ramsey. However, I note we have a problem: there is an object dated 1260AD that has a microscopic complexity such that it cannot be made by a forger in 1260AD. Does Prof Ramsey have any idea how to solve this contradiction? Can we collaborate to find a solution? Is it possible to organise a team of experts that reconsider both dating and microscopic characteristics of this extraordinary image?

• What is the significance of the Shroud if it is shown to be of medieval origin? Is it still a fascinating artifact even if it isn’t Christ’s burial cloth?

The significance of the Shroud for mankind was addressed by Pope John Paul II and more recently by Pope Benedict XVI. The best definition of the Shroud from a scientific point of view was by Pope John Paul II: the Shroud is a challenge to our intelligence.

• Do you personally believe that it is the Shroud of Christ?

As a scientist, I think we will never demonstrate the Shroud is the burial cloth of Christ. Even if it will be shown this cloth is of the first century, we will have a probability, never a certainty. However, I have studied more than 60 peer-reviewed papers on this topic, analysed a lot of microphotographs and microscope images, read sophisticated spectral information, and considered many other scientific data available. The more one studies the Shroud from a scientific perspective, the clearer it becomes that this image could not have been made by a forger, either medieval or modern. This allows to come back to the “question of questions”: how was the body image on the Shroud made?

Categories: News & Views, Science
  1. December 30, 2011 at 9:32 am

    It is worth noting that the ” C.R. Bronk” among the signatories to the 1989 Nature paper declaring that the radiocarbon dating of a three postage stamp size samples of the 4 x 2 metre Shroud was “conclusive evidence that the linen of the Shroud of Turin is mediaeval”:

    Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin by P. E. Damon,1 D. J. Donahue,2 B. H. Gore,1 A. L. Hatheway,2 A. J. T. Jull,1 T. W. Linick,2 P. J. Sercel,2 L. J. Toolin,1 C.R. Bronk,3 E. T. Hall,3 R. E. M. Hedges, 3 R. Housley,3 I. A. Law,3 C. Perry,3 G. Bonani,4 S. Trumbore,5 W. Woelfli,4 J. C. Ambers,6 S. G. E. Bowman,6 M. N. Leese6 & M. S. Tite6 Reprinted from Nature, Vol. 337, No. 6208, pp. 611-615, 16th February, 1989

    is none other than Professor Christopher Bronk Ramsey!

    So Prof. Ramsay is far from being a disinterested party in the defence of that now increasingly discredited radiocarbon dating of the Shroud to 1260-1390 AD.

    If Prof. Ramsey was quoted correctly that, the “radiocarbon dating results which put the Shroud at around 800 years old, which Prof Christopher Ramsey of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit tells me we have no reason to doubt” then his continued unscientific dogmatism is itself highly significant.

    Indeed, the very fact the scientists involved did not then, and still do not now, preface their conclusions with something like:

    “If the tiny 1.2cm x 8cm = 0.00096 sq m. sample of the Shroud we were given, cut from the one bottom corner of the 4.4 x 1.1m = 4.84 sq. m. cloth, and therefore being only 0.02% of the whole cloth, is representative of the whole cloth, then, and only then, can we extrapolate our 1260-1390 AD date of that sample, to the Shroud as a whole”

    tells me that they were, and still are, trying too hard to discredit the Shroud.”

  2. Ron
    December 30, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    Very well said Mr. Jones, and may I had to your very last statement; “and to protect thier reputations”.

    As I mentioned quite forcefully in an earlier blog; Anyone with scientific or archaeological training, could not deny and would acknowledge, “any sample tested must be representative of the whole” and also that “ALL evidence pertaining to the sample must be taken into account” …As we all know neither was followed by ANY of the labs or those that came to the conclusion of the medieval dates…It is a shameful and derelict act on thier part, to say the least…Reputable Labs; My *** !


    • Yannick Clément
      December 30, 2011 at 8:17 pm

      My friend Ron, I hope (I know) you can apply the same high standard regarding the samples used by M. Di Lazzaro and his team than you do for the 1988 C14 sample ! If (the “if” is important here) the samples used by M. Di Lazzaro are not fully representative of the real linen we found on the Shroud, then his results are irrelevant to the Shroud of Turin… If it is so (again “if”), then their results cannot be related directly to the Shroud…

      • Ron
        December 31, 2011 at 8:22 am

        Of course I do, I have stated my opinion “quite clear” on the Di Lazzaro experiments and it’s relevant FACTS! I am also quite aware of it’s shortcomings, but I am not biased in my opinions that I would say they carry no weight, such has you. Whether you like it or not Yannick, the experiment does show something important. I will not dismiss it because of bias nor promote it for the same reason. You should think about that. Furthermore, My scrutiny of the carbon dating is well founded; Are you implying it is not? People should really review the true facts on the procedures of such then maybe the c14 tests would not carry so much weight. Please don’t mix the two tests together either. As the fiasco of the C-14 dating done in 1988 is of far more importance.


      • Yannick Clément
        December 31, 2011 at 8:51 pm

        Ron, you said : “My scrutiny of the carbon dating is well founded; Are you implying it is not?” I don’t where you take this idea. It wasn’t my intention.

        Now, for Di Lazzaro, I just hate how much Pro-Shroud and Pro-Supernatural people (I’m not talking about you) are willing to do any kind of extrapolations in order to link those experiment with the Shroud. THE FACT IS : THERE’S NO DIRECT LINK. People have problem to understand that (again, I don’t talk about you personally). The only link that exist is when people are willing to do some extrapolations.

        And also, we have to remember :

        1- Those results have not been confirmed yet by an independent researcher.
        2- In the present state of our knowledge about the Shroud, nobody can be sure if Di Lazzaro’s experiments were done with linen samples that are the same as the linen of the Shroud and nobody know if the chromophore for his coloration is the same than we see on the Shroud of Turin.

        That’s all I say. There’s a lot of questions that still need to be resolve before even thinking those experiments can be related at all to the Shroud of Turin… And that will only be possible to resolve them once the Vatican will permit a new series of direct chemical tests on the Shroud. Before that, all we’re left with is speculations. And I don’t think we can go too far, scientifically speaking, with speculations.

  3. Max Patrick Hamon
    December 30, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Actually, the Shroud enigma is symptomatic of many many researchers’ intelligence being misled by appearances.

  4. Yannick Clément
    December 30, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    True… And I think it’s even more true if we say : being misled by their “beliefs” (we could use another word like “agenda” or “preconceived ideas”). I think there’s a lot of that in the Shroud research, but not only in the Shroud research. It’s surely true elsewhere in the scientific world. But maybe there’s more of that in the Shroud world because of the polemic nature of the subject.

  5. Ron
    January 1, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Yannick; Absolutely! We must wait for Peer-Review~ We all realize that, I’m sure!

    The fact that the Linen used in the experiment was not equal in composition to the linen found on the Shroud means very little; (AT THIS POINT ONLY). The thing to realize is that the experiment ‘proves’, that linen can be ‘marked’ with a ‘relatively similar’ colour to the one found on the Shroud but, more importantly, marked; SUPERFICIALLY, using UV laser light…it’s simple! This IS not speculation or hogwash, it is important news!…That said, we recognize we must wait for peer-review and hopefully further on down the road, they can repeat the experiment on Linen reminiscent of the Shroud….then the scientific truth will be unquestionable.


  6. Yannick Clément
    January 2, 2012 at 12:38 am

    Their results are not speculation, I agree with you. But to link them with the Shroud of Turin, that’s where you need some extrapolations. And the question of the validity of their samples is really important to judge the importance of their findings. We have to maintain a real critical view regarding those experiments, just like we do regarding the validity of the sample used in 88 for carbon dating. It’s not sure at all that what was accomplished by Di Lazzaro and his team is quite relevant with the Shroud. That’s all I say. Rogers made his Maillard reaction experiments on linen samples that were specially prepared the old fashion way as describe by Pliny the Elder in Antiquity. I don’t think we can say the same thing regarding Di Lazzaro’s samples. In reality, the fact that they colored the primary cell wall of the cellulose of the linen fiber instead of a thin layer of impurity (as proposed by Rogers) tell you a lot about the fact that their linen samples were not the same than what Rogers said for the Shroud. Of course, Rogers could have been wrong, I know. But the fact is that he was a top notch in his field of chemistry and he knew the Shroud better than maybe anybody in the world, and surely better than M. Di Lazzaro and his team (even if I don’t doubt their professional quality). The fact is : we can’t be sure for the moment if Di Lazzaro’s experiments can be related at all with the Shroud of Turin. That’s why I think it is prudent to wait a bit before screaming : Hurrah ! They found the solution to the mystery ! I think Ron, you are prudent like that (even if you seem to give them more credit than me) but I also think many people will not be as prudent as you regarding this kind of news.

  7. Tom Devins
    December 6, 2012 at 10:05 am

    I think Di Lazzaro’s work is in the right direction. There is a mysterious, well documented phenomena in Tibetan Buddhist culture called the Rainbow Body. It is where the bodies of adepts who have achieved a high degree of spiritual awareness simply disappear at death, vanishing in a shower of multi-colored light. Hence the name Rainbow Body. Jesus, being fully developed spiritually by following the same ascetic, selfless, compassion laced life style as the Buddhist counterparts, may have attained a Rainbow Body (Resurrection in the Christian tradition.) Typically the Buddhist adept’s body dissolves in seven days. Jesus’ body dissolved in thirty-six hours or less. This could point to a higher frequency radiation in the Resurrection than in the Buddhist tradition. The point is, the human body can be a source of light, adding credibility to the notion that the image on the Shroud was somehow produced by a sudden burst of radiation.

  1. December 30, 2011 at 11:11 am
  2. December 31, 2011 at 6:07 am
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