What did Christopher Ramsey Know

imageTom Chivers of The Telegraph reported that Professor Christopher Ramsey (pictured) of Oxford said:

[T]he radiocarbon dating results putting it at 1260 – 1390AD were reliable, and that the suggestions of contamination or medieval repair were unlikely.

This caused a bit of a reaction. I got emails wondering if Ramsey didn’t actually know about the possibility of a medieval repair back in 1987.  Hadn’t Teddy Hall, under whom Ramsey worked, noticed fibers that looked out of place? Consider this from the December 1988 issue of Textile Horizons (pg. 13), "Rogue fibres found in the Shroud.”

Staff at a Derbyshire laboratory have been working on one of their most unusual and fascinating problems ever to help unravel a second mystery concerning the world-famous Turin Shroud. The true age of the Shroud was announced recently following exhaustive tests by laboratories in Britain, Switzerland, and the USA.

Precision Processes (Textiles) Ltd. in Ambergate, Derbyshire, earned the distinction of being the only lab in the UK to assist Oxford University with the prestigious assignment, their task being identify "foreign" bodies found in the cloth. Managing director Peter South explains, "It was while the sample was undergoing tests at the radiocarbon acceleration unit in Oxford that Professor Edward Hall noticed two or three fibres which looked out of place. He mentioned this to his friend Sir James Spooner, chairman of Coats Viyella, to which our firm belongs. Consequently, after several telephone calls, the minute samples, which looked like human hair, were sent to us."

The strange fibres were magnified 200 times under a microscope and were immediately identified as cotton. "The cotton is a fine, dark yellow strand, possibly of Egyptian origin and quite old. Unfortunately, it is impossible to say how it ended up in the Shroud, which is basically made from linen," said Mr. South. "It may have been used for repairs at some time in the past, or simply became bound in when the linen fabric was woven. It may not have taken us long to identify the strange material, but it was unique amongst the many and varied jobs we undertake."

Also, hadn’t Giovanni Riggi, who actually cut the carbon 14 sample from the Shroud stated,

I was authorized to cut approximately 8 square centimetres of cloth from the Shroud…This was then reduced to about 7 cm because fibres of other origins had become mixed up with the original fabric . . .

Didn’t Giorgio Tessiore, who documented the sampling, write:

. . . 1 cm of the new sample had to be discarded because of the presence of different color threads.

Didn’t Gilbert Raes, when later he examined some of the carbon 14 samples, notice that cotton fibers were contained inside the threads, which perhaps helped explain differences in fiber diameter. This may also have explained why the carbon 14 samples apparently weighed much more than was as expected.

Hadn’t Alan Adler at Western Connecticut State University found large amounts of aluminum in yarn segments from the radiocarbon sample, up to 2%, by energy-dispersive x-ray analysis. Aluminum, found only in the area if the shroud from which the samples were cut was a mordant that might have been used for dying repair threads.

Hasn’t there now been a great deal more work done. Can Ramsey really say that repairs are unlikely considering what he might have known then or should have known then or what he should know now given the work of Ray Rogers and Joe Marino and Sue Benford as documented in science journals:

  1. Chemistry Today (vol 26 n4/Jul-Aug 2008), "Discrepancies in the radiocarbon dating area of the Turin shroud,"

  2. Thermochimica Acta (vol 425 2005)

  3. Perhaps he is not aware of any of this.

14 thoughts on “What did Christopher Ramsey Know”

  1. We should be wary of any slur on Christopher Ramey’s position on the Shroud. He showed himself to be completely openminded in taking on the lab work involved in checking out the carbon monoxide hypothesis. His position is made clear in the extended interview at http://www.shroud-enigma.com/c14/turin-shroud-carbon-dating-test.html

    I have no doubt that if anything “material” should come to light he would be the first to recognize it.

    The fact is, it is the Shroud’s custodians and those who have had unrestricted access to the cloth who have stated categorically that there is no contaminant present in the sample area.

  2. Prof. Christopher Ramsey Bronk, aka “C.R. Bronk,” the first-mentioned name from Oxford in the 1989 Nature article declaring that “The age of the shroud is obtained as AD 1260-1390” (AD1325 +/- 65 years) and therefore “the linen of the Shroud of Turin is mediaeval.” That presumably means that he was the scientist at Oxford who actually did the test.

    If so he must have known that the Shroud samples contained cotton that was “possibly of Egyptian origin and quite old.” But the other two labs, Tucson and Zurich had already run their tests 2-3 months previously, and had arrived at a date of about AD1350. The three AMS labs would normally be in regular contact with each other so it beggars belief that the labs did not share their results of their dating of the Shroud. Anyway, there is evidence that they did.

    Ramsey would then have had a dilemma:

    1. He knew that the other two labs which had already dated their samples at ~AD1350 had not discovered the cotton (they hadn’t), so their dates would have included the cotton.

    2. So if Oxford removed the cotton from its sample, then Oxford’s date could not have been the same consensus ~AD1350 date as the other two.

    3. If the cotton was “of Egyptian origin and quite old” and was not removed, it would have made their Shroud sample appear to be much older than ~AD1350.

    There seems to be only one honourable way out of Ramsey’s dilemma and that is if both the cotton and the Shroud sample were about the same ~AD1350 age.

    But then why would the cotton appear to be “yellow … possibly of Egyptian origin and quite old” even under a 200X microscope if it was in reality the same ~AD1350 age of the Shroud linen sample?

    The only answer seems to be that the cotton was dyed yellow to make it look like the linen. And it took it being “magnified 200 times under a microscope” to discover that it was cotton.

    But this is precisely what the “medieval repair” or Benford-Marino “Reweaving Theory” maintains. That the tiny 1.2 x 0.8 cm sample that the three labs were given from the same area of the Shroud and then divided equally amongst themselves for dating, was not part of the Shroud itself, but was actually a medieval patch added to the Shroud for repairs, using cotton dyed to make it look invisible to the naked eye against the background of the yellow linen.

    So if Ramsey continues to maintain “the suggestions of … medieval repair were unlikely” then he has no honourable way to explain how the other two labs arrived at an ~AD1350 date, even though their sample included what appeared to be old Egyptian cotton; and his Oxford lab arrived at the same date with the same cotton removed. Unless Oxford deliberately re-ran its test on a sub-sample with the cotton included so as to make it appear to agree with the other two labs.

    Or if Ramsey claims the cotton was not old, then he needs to explain: 1. how old was it? And 2. why did it look old and yellow, even under a 200X microscope.

  3. >Ramey’s … showed himself to be completely openminded in taking on the lab work involved in checking out the carbon monoxide hypothesis

    As I pointed out previously, Jackson’s carbon monoxide hypothesis would be an honourable way out for all three labs. That is, the Shroud sample they had did actually date to about ~AD1350 due to a then unknown contaminant: new carbon in the form of carbon monoxide.

    But to admit that what the three labs tested was actually a “medieval repair,” not the Shroud itelf, would not be an honourable way out because it would make the labs look like fools, i.e. they did not even realise, or consider, that they were dating a mediaeval patch.

    Also, since Oxford actually discovered the cotton, it would have even less excuse for not realising that what they had was a medieval patch, not the Shroud itself.

  4. There is no slur here. I have always considered Prof. Ramsey open minded and have quoted him to that effect. But when the press states certain things, people react. I can ignore it or blog about it. If I don’t blog about it others, who I think are less committed to accuracy, will.

    It was not the shroud’s custodians who were being quoted; it was Prof Ramsey. I find the arguments against Benford/Marino/Rogers, given all the evidence, insufficient for a qualification of “unlikely.”

    David, I know we disagree and I doubt either one of us is about the change opinion. But my disagreement was not a slur.

    Dan Porter

    1. Dan, I welcome the clarification. Personally, I find the “Ambergate” document intriguing and potentially very damaging. It demonstrates the rather haphazard approach to the testing that I am sure the labs would normally want to distance themselves from. It would appear there was no documentation of this particular episode which suggests, at the very least, a lack of professionalism.

      I am not certain what it is we disagree on. I remain open-minded about the reweave theory. What we all have to live with is the fact that the one person who should know, Ms Flury Lemburg, refuses to countenance it. Professor Ramsey can hardly be expected to contradict the only person who has had the opportunity to examine the shroud as a textile at close quarters.

  5. gotta agree wih jones completely and porter mostly. believing there is a lack of provenance doesn;t make it unlikely. an experts “i don;t think i see doesn;t make it unlikely.” where;s the science???

  6. Actually Ramsay is “right to a certain extent”.

    Such a high contamination does not imply a medieval repair. A XIXth century repair is most likely (either by the princess Clothilde of Savoy-Bonaparte or the Master of upholstery in the Royal court of Savoy, in 1863).

  7. BYE-BYE C14

    Since I started following this blog, I have noticed that one of the major concerns of researchers is the C14 radiocarbon dating. This post and also the post of Jan 1 by Russ Breault are good examples. The underlying idea is that if a new C14 test is carried out on the original linen, the results would confirm that it is authentic.

    However, I see a big paradox here, since the validity of the C14 method itself when applied to ancient cloths, has been scientifically challenged –not only but yes to a great extent- by the Shroud researchers community since 1988. And I think they have succeded in that. Therefore, in 2012 it can be stated that the method is not reliable for ancient linens, regardless the sample is correctly chosen or not and also regardless the statistical technique used. It is due to these intrinsic shortcomes and limitations of the C14 method –mainly the fact that the effect from a bioplastic organic coating cannot be removed from cloths(1)- that new methodologies have to be explored.

    It may well happen (and I personally would bet yes!!) that in a new C14 test -this time with the correct sample- the results indicate something similar to the tests of for example, the Sudarium of Oviedo (7th century) and the results would not be conclusive once again. Radiocarbon dating belongs to the 80’s and currently very powerful techniques are available which could help.

    Why not leave behind once and for all the C14 method and concentrate on what state-of –the-art technologies can offer in 2012 and forthcoming years?
    In this sense, I would like to mention the laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS). With this almost non-destructive technique applied to cloths it is possible to identify the trace elements present (2) on cotton or linen that can make it possible to scientifically connect the cloth with a certain area (3) of the world (for example Palestine). It would also make it possible to build a definitive connection (or completely rule it out) between the Shroud and the Sudarium of Oviedo.

    The best of all, it needs such a small sample that it is considered as nearly non-destructive and the material captured in the sticky tapes would be enough.

    (1) H.E. Gove, S.J. Mattingly, A.R. David, L.A. Garza-Valdes. A problematic source of organic contamination of linen.Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research B 123 (1997) 504-507
    (2) Emily R. Schenk and Jose R. Almirall. Elemental analysis of cotton by laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy. Applied Optics, Vol. 49, Issue 13, pp. C153-C160 (2010)
    (3) Takako Inoue, Kengo Ishihara and Kyoden Yasumoto.International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology Vol. 22 No. 2/3, 2010 pp. 174-186

  8. >I remain open-minded about the reweave theory. What we all have to live with is the fact that the one person who should know, Ms Flury Lemburg, refuses to countenance it.

    Whether David intended “Ms Flury Lemburg … refuses to countenance it” literally, it does seem to be the impression created by Mechthild Flury-Lemberg rejection of Benford and Marino’s invisible reweaving theory, backed up as it is with a wealth of scientific evidence.

    According to Joe Marino (private email), Flury-Lemberg’s main objection to the reweave theory is that such invisible weaving would be visible on the reverse side, and she had not personally seen it when she examined the Shroud (see her “The Invisible Mending of the Shroud in Theory and Reality,” BSTS Newsletter No. 65, June 2007).

    But as Benford and Marino pointed out in their paper, “Discrepancies in the radiocarbon dating area of the Turin shroud,” Chemistry Today, July-August 2008, medieval reweaving could be made to be invisble on both sides:

    “Historical evidence demonstrates that it was not only possible for medieval weavers and embroiderers to invisibly mend textiles such that they were not top-side detectable, but it is also recognized that they could choose whether or not to permit their handiwork from being detected on the back side as well.

    `Historically, reweaving was not carried out through a support fabric and was often executed so skilfully that it is not always recognizable as a later addition, although differences in the rate of dye fading have often revealed its presence. Evidence of reweaving would now (16th Century) usually be left deliberately visible on the reverse of the tapestry by the presence of the warp ends and knots’ [F. Lennard, M. Hayward, Tapestry Conservation: Principles and Practice. Burlington, Massachusetts: Butterworth-Heinemann 16 (2006)]

    As this passage infers, skilful medieval weavers could choose whether or not to leave evidence of their work on the back side of a fabric. Although a less-than-conventional restoration practice, it is known that in early part of the 16th Century the art of `reversing’ was practiced such that tapestries could be viewed intact from either side of the cloth.”

    These very cotton fibres that Oxford discovered in their sample, yet Tucson and Zurich had not, and which required 200x magnification to determine that they were cotton, is itself evidence that just looking at the Shroud with the naked eye, may be not enough to detect expert medieval reweaving that is designed to not be visible to the naked eye.

  9. The impact of a specific Judean burial practice (the use of water mixed with ashes to purify and keep with his body the shed innocent blood of a man unfairly sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin) SHALL NOT be completely ruled out in the carbon dating issue either.

  10. What Christopher Ramsey did NOT know is not only the impact of a possible French reweaving (either in the XVIth or XIXth century) but also that of a speclfic Judean burial practice of the Second Temple period.

  11. I’m with Gabriel on this!!,…Time to move on. It is in my opinion from my personal study, gut feeling and I shall I dare say God given ‘common sense’, the testing done in ’88 was tremendously flawed. It’s too bad certain people won’t own up to it and clear the ‘air’ finally, and allow for ‘proper’, modern testing to go forward. Don’t people realize we ‘may have’ the most important object in the history of mankind here? The implications of it being authentic is staggering. I wish those in control would realize this, stop pussy-footing around and allow further study.


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