Badder Still: Bad Archaeology at Bad Archaeology

imageSo the blog owner at Bad Archaeology doesn’t like what I wrote. Let’s take it bit by bit:

And finally, there’s a recent criticism of the page devoted to The Turin Shroud. Rather than comment, the person who disagrees with what I wrote, a blogger called Dan Porter, has written an entire blog post, Bad Archaeology at Bad Archaeology (how I wish I could have used that title!). In his comment on Bad Archaeology, he calls it a “comprehensive response”, but it’s far from comprehensive. It cherry picks elements of the page for specific criticisms, but I found that I had to delete only two errors of fact.

Only two errors of fact? I agree I should not have used the word comprehensive. Point well taken.

What Dan Porter has done has been to use the very dubious claims of Ray Rogers that the linen samples used for radiocarbon dating were contaminated, . . .

Is this how good archaeology is done, claiming something is dubious without the least bit of explanation? Dubious? Why? To the contrary, a mountain of evidence now exists in support of Rogers. It is indeed the carbon dating undertaken in 1988 that is dubious. Click on Read More below to see a comprehensive enough list of reasons to doubt the carbon dating.

. . . to press on with the silly notion that the image on the Shroud encodes three-dimensional data (an inexplicable miracle!) and generally disagree with what I wrote.

What his criticism did allow me to do was to test the claims about the encoding of three-dimensional data in images. I took a well known facial image and processed it with results that look fairly similar to those obtained from the Shroud. It even rendered unevennesses in the photographic print as three-dimensional! Another miracle!

imageIt is painfully obvious that over at Bad Archaeology the concept of the three-dimensionality in the image is not any better understood than it is by our friend Sciencebod over at Science Buzz. It is painfully obvious because BA resorts to mockery. No one that I know of claims that the 3D data content or how it plots to an elevation is miraculous. Where did BA get that idea? Granted, some people think the image was recorded by the Resurrection. That part would be miraculous. Others do not. Rogers, for one did not. imagePlenty of people who participate in this blog don’t think so. For an introduction to the 3D encoding read Sciencebod’s 3D Problem.

The green picture of Einstein (copied over from BA) is supposed to explain what? Any picture will plot something even indented eyebrows. Is that understood at Bad Archaeology?


1. Thermochimica Acta (Volume 425 Issue 1-2, 2005, pages 189-194, by Raymond N. Rogers, Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of California) – The peer-reviewed article is available on Elsevier BV’s ScienceDirect® online information site. The abstract reads:

The combined evidence from chemical kinetics, analytical chemistry, cotton content, and pyrolysis/ms proves that the material from the radiocarbon area of the shroud is significantly different from that of the main cloth. The radiocarbon sample was thus not part of the original cloth and is invalid for determining the age of the shroud.

Ironically, Rogers was trying to prove that the “results are accurate and the samples came from the shroud.”

2. Microscopical Investigation of Selected Raes Threads from the Shroud of Turin by John L. Brown, retired Principal Research Scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Energy and Materials Sciences Laboratory. This is a 2005 independent, by-different-means confirmation that the carbon 14 dating was flawed.

3. The 2008 work of Bob Villarreal and a team of nine scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory which confirmed that the carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin is wrong. According to Villarreal:

[T]he [1988] age-dating process failed to recognize one of the first rules of analytical chemistry that any sample taken for characterization of an area or population must necessarily be representative of the whole. The part must be representative of the whole. Our analyses of the three thread samples taken from the Raes and C-14 sampling corner showed that this was not the case.

4. Chemistry Today (Volume 126, Number 4, pages 4-12, July-August 2008 by M. Sue Benford and Joseph G. Marino). Discrepancies in the radiocarbon dating area of the Turin shroud.

5. A 2009 paper, Cotton in Raes/Radiocarbon Threads: The Example of Raes #7, by Thibault Heimburger; published on the STERA site.

6. A 2010 paper, Carbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin: Partially Labelled Regressors and the Design of Experiments, co-authored by Marco Riani, Anthony C. Atkinson, Giulio Fanti and Fabio Crosilla; recently published on the website of the London School of Economics. The abstract reads:

Due to the heterogeneity of the data and the evidence of a strong linear trend the twelve measurements of the age of the TS [=Turin Shroud] cannot be considered as repeated measurements of a single unknown quantity. The statement of Damon, Donahue, Gore, and eighteen others (1989) that “The results provide conclusive evidence that the linen of the Shroud of Turin is mediaeval” needs to be reconsidered in the light of the evidence produced by our use of robust statistical techniques.

But even in going back to 1988, we can’t help but notice warning signs that something was amiss that the testers, themselves, seemed to ignore. Perhaps that was a disservice to each other and the public at large.

  • Giovanni Riggi, the person 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 …” (emphasis mine)
  • Giorgio Tessiore, who documented the sampling, wrote: “…1 cm of the new sample had to be discarded because of the presence of different color threads.” (emphasis mine)
  • Edward (Teddy) Hall, then head of the Oxford radiocarbon dating laboratory, had noticed fibers that looked out of place. A laboratory in Derbyshire concluded that the rogue fibers were cotton of “a fine, dark yellow strand.” Derbyshire’s Peter South wrote: “It may have been used for repairs at some time in the past…”
  • Gilbert Raes, when he later examined some of the carbon 14 samples, noticed that cotton fibers were contained inside the threads, which could help to explain differences in fiber diameter. This may also explain why the carbon 14 samples apparently weighed much more than was as expected.
  • 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. Why aluminum? That was an important question because it is not found elsewhere on the Shroud.
  • The radiocarbon lab at the University of Arizona conducted eight tests. But there was a wide variance in the computed dates and so the team in Arizona combined results to produce four results thus eliminating the more outlying dates (reportedly they did so at the request of the British Museum, which was overseeing the tests). Even then, according to Remi Van Haelst, a an industrial chemist in Belgium who reviewed the measurements, the results failed to meet minimum statistical standards (chi-squared tests). Why the wide variance in the dates? Was it because of testing errors? Or was it because the sample was not sufficiently homogeneous? The latter seems very likely now, and the statistical anomaly indicates something very suspicious about the samples.
  • Bryan Walsh, a statistician, examined Van Haelst’s analysis and further studied the measurements. He concluded that the divided samples used in multiple tests contained different levels of the C14 isotope. The overall cut sample was non-homogeneous and thus of questionable validity. Walsh found a significant relationship between the measured age of various sub-samples and their distance from the edge of the cloth. Though Walsh did not suggest invisible reweaving, it is consistent with his findings.

Responding to criticism « Bad Archaeology

21 thoughts on “Badder Still: Bad Archaeology at Bad Archaeology”

  1. Coming again to the C14 issue, in the literature gathered by Dan in this post, there are two different groups of reasons that converge in the same idea that the validity of the test is questionable. One, is the possibility that the sample is not representative of the whole Shroud and the other one -and to me much more interesting- is the lack of homogeneity among subsamples according to some statistical tests. In one of these papers (Riani et al., 2010) the authors even identify a trend from the outer to the inner part of the Shroud. The reason why to me is much more interesting this second group of statistical reasons is that even if original linen were sampled, it could also be expected a lack of homogeneity and also, most probably, due to the lack of conclusive results a new cycle of useless discussions could start.
    This is because nobody exactly knows what the impact of the very specific chain of historical events the Shroud has gone through (millions of people rubbing it for centuries, fires, humidity changes…..) could have on the C14 test. For this reason, even in the case that the Shroud were authentic, I would not be too confident that a new test, although correctly carried out by standards valid for other type of samples, would yield a 1st century datation. I guess that a new C14 test would not be helpful at all because all these papers sort of indicate what we can expect.

    1. The essential component that is being analysed for C-14 is cellulose – which is easily contaminated I grant you – but cellulose is also chemically-resistant to harsh reagents – ask any chemist who uses it as filter paper. Exploiting its physical and chemical resistance, the 3 labs that determined C-14 each took elementary precautions to clean up samples with lipid solvents, acid, alkali etc, all with a view to removing the kind of carbon-based contaminants that might have been picked up through handling – skin oils, proteins, microorganisms etc.

      clean up routines

      1. Significance level (%) 5

        4.99 and the article is non conclusive… as said Dan, even Pr Ramsey admitted one should have a second look on the 1988 C14 datation.

        What is needed is a multinational, multidisciplinary team of reknowned experts, proposing a protocole to study the shroud physically, chemically, historically…

        One can say the Vatican is reluctant, but creating such a team and protocole may be the hard bit.

        best regards,

  2. A estas fechas, 2012, no tenemos certeza de qué es lo que se “quemó” en la prueba del C14.
    Como usted creo conoce, sciencebod, el Prof.Hull ( laboratorio de Arizona) nos sorprendió recientemente publicando en su revista, Radiocarbon, que estaba en posesión de uno de los fragmentos de la Sábana que TODOS creíamos, porque así lo contaba Nature, que había sido “quemado”……….

    1. Google Translation of co’s comment:
      By now, 2012, we are not certain what they are “burned” in the test of C14.
      As you know I think, sciencebod the Prof.Hull (laboratory of Arizona) recently surprised us by posting in your journal Radiocarbon, who was in possession of one of the pieces of the shroud that everyone thought, because they had Nature, which had been “burned” … … ….

      1. There has been a lot of suspicion about Arizona: outliers concealed, material set aside? It may not be significant but it sure raises questions about their adherence to protocol.

  3. “The green picture of Einstein (copied over from BA) is supposed to explain what? Any picture will plot something even indented eyebrows.”

    There is a simple explanation for the inverted eyebrows: when that iconic picture of the tongue-extended Einstein was taken he had silver hair and black eyebrows.

    counterpoint hair and eyebrows

    Any dumb computerised imaging system that says light is elevated and dark is recessed would produce that result.

    The Shroud image was scanned by that same dumb system – and tweaked to get the best result. It’s hardly surprising that the “gold standard” original now produces sub-optimised images when you ask it to look at modern photographs etc- or why the 1532 burn marks also show up in glorious 3D – having a gradation of scorch intensity that the computer “sees” as 3D relief. GIGO…

    1. Sciencebod, are you seriously this dense? *Obviously* any photograph or painting will give you *some* result or other if you map brightness to elevation. But, like that Einstein photo (which came out mostly flat and with lines and inverted eyebrows), the result will not be anything like the actual elevation of a real human face. That’s the whole point. Actual photographs and paintings produce garbage when you run that sort of algorithm on them, whereas the Shroud produces an accurate elevation of a real human face.

      Hence, either some super-skilled artisan deliberately encoded 3D information by “painting” the image in such a way that elevation would correspond with brightness, or the image was somehow produced by a real human body (or model of a human body) such that elevation would correspond to brightness. Showing us examples of how photos and paintings produce garbage results merely illustrates our point for us that the Shroud is not a painting or a photo, but an elevation map.

  4. Es DIFÍCIL entender como alguien que se titula con formación científica no comprende algo tan SIMPLE.

    La propiedad 3D de la sábana que demostró el VP-8, NO consiste en que proporcione una imagen con VOLÚMENES, alturas y bajuras, del Hombre de la Sábana, sino en que esos volúmenes sean COHERENTES con la imagen de un hombre REAL.

    Las imagen 3D de las quemaduras de la Sábana, con sus volúmenes, NO son coherentes con las quemaduras reales, pues las quemaduras reales SON PLANAS, es una FALSA 3D

    Cualquier foto o pintura NORMAL que usted someta a un programa 3D tipo VP-8, proporcionará siempre imágenes con VOLÚMENES que serán NO COHERENTES, falsa 3D, con el objeto o persona que represente la foto o pintura.

    El VP-8, se ha repetido hasta la saciedad, NO estaba programado para ver las fotos NORMALES porque siempre proporcionaría resultados ABERRANTES, no coherentes con la realidad.

    “The isometric display was never intended to produce a “real-three-dimensional” display. A snow-covered peak would look like a high, flat surface, while a rock sitting on top of the snow would look like a deep hole in the high surface. Light reflecting from a stream at the bottom of a valley would appear to be a high elevation, perhaps even higher than the snow on the peak of the mountains. Dull rocks and dark vegetation would appear to be lower than the water of the stream. In other words, objects are not as tall or short, high or low, as their reflectance of light might indicate. There is no correlation between
    reflectance and altitude.

    The purpose of the isometric display was to make it easier to follow patterns of changes in shades of gray within an image. Particularly, the light pattern changes in reflection of light from soils and vegetation near a fault line were of interest. Following patterns of soil types and vegetation types was also of interest. But in no case was there ever any indication on the isometric display of how high or low, how tall or short something was.”.Schumacher, el ingeniero que programó el VP-8.


    1. CO, he doesn’t want to understand because he’s not interested. Notice he keeps supplying irrelevant answers. I think his sole purpose here is to agitate and drive traffic to his site because it’s nowhere near as popular as Dan’s site.

      If he’s truly interested let him put his money where his mouth is and make a copy of the shroud with all the same properties and submit it for analysis. He’ll probably need a blood donation as well since he’ll need to include real blood to make a copy. Think of the fame and fortune that will follow now that a real scientist has solved the shroud mystery!

      As icing on the cake he can find the shroud’s contemporary from the 14th century as well and mock all the other mickey mouse scientists and art historians in the process for not picking up on it sooner. It will all be quite the dream come true!

      But until all this comes to pass it’s probably best not to countenance his posts.

      1. CO, he doesn’t want to understand because he’s not interested.

        That’s not quite right. He’s actually extremely interested in not understanding. Between sciencebod, Bad Archeology, and the reader Dan mentioned who denied there was any image at all, I’m reminded of that story about Galileo’s scientific contemporaries who refused to look in the telescope, or did look and claimed to have seen nothing but smudges. When someone wants badly enough to not know something, their will can overcome their very senses.

        If he’s truly interested let him put his money where his mouth is and make a copy of the shroud with all the same properties and submit it for analysis.

        Actually, to make it relevant to what he’s claiming, he needs to create an image (photograph or painting) that creates a realistic 3D shape of a human face and body when the brightness of the image is translated into elevation, but without doing it on purpose.

      2. The popularity or otherwise of a site depends as much on the comments as the posts (no disrespect to Dan for whom I have the highest regard as a site manager). But you and some others – that dreaded species known as the ‘squatting site regular’- seem to be trying your level best to drive away this relativel newcomer to the site, which is hardly calculated to enamour you with Dan. At least he recognizes that someone with a lifetime of scientific research and teaching experience has something to offer – which you for your part seem unable to appreciate. I shall resist the temptation to speculate on reasons why, having better things to do.

        I shall now withdraw for at least another week. and patiently await reaction here to my ‘sandpit theory’ as to how the Shroud was created, word of which will have to find its way here haphazardly via the blogospheric bush telegraph, seeing as how links to external sites are denounced uncharitably as attempts to “draw custom away”.

  5. Sciencebod, regarding your comment #2 I would like to suggest you read this paper (*). I think Dan should have added it to his list in this post. In this work, important errors on datation of ancient Egypt linens using C14 are described. In all cases, the protocols were followed but datations yielded notorious errors. Something similar might well have happened with the Shroud and the 1988 C14 test.

    (*)H.E. Gove a, S.J. Mattingly b, 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

    This journal belongs to the JCR, has got an impact factor of 1.042 ans is ranked in position 31st out of 61 in the field of INSTRUMENTS &INSTRUMENTATIONS

Comments are closed.