Carbon Dating the Shroud of Turin Again?

imageCharles Freeman, by way of a comment, writes:

Dan I am sure that you would support, and I hope make strong moves to use your influence, to campaign for a new radio-carbon -14 dating. After all, in the past twenty-five years r-c dating has become more scientifically accurate and it should be able to avoid the criticisms of the 1988 dating. Maybe it would also pinpoint a more precise date within or outside of the 1260-1390 period.

Those of us who stick to the presumption of the 1988 dating standing do so a) because in relation to the three possible alternatives, a swapping over of samples by the Cardinal and Tite, some form of contamination ( many different contaminants, soot, sweat, carbon monoxide suggested) or an invisible rewoven patch selected as the sample, critics of the testing disagree so violently among themselves – e.g see Antonacci’s critique of Raymond Rogers’ 2005 paper- that the independent observer cannot be convinced that a single clear refutation of the 1988 testing has been proposed by the critics b) There is not a hint in any of these critiques that resolution of the problems proposed would lead to a radio-carbon 14 dating in the first century.

Only those who are absolutely committed to supporting one date or the other have anything to fear from a retesting and as STURP has been among the main critics of the 1988 tests, it is presumably their primary responsibility to call for a new test by at least three independent radio-carbon-14 laboratories. STURP would presumably provide observers who would be present alongside textile and radio-carbon 14 experts to make sure that representative samples of the whole Shroud are chosen. As shroud or burial cloths undoubtedly did exist in the tomb of Jesus in c. 30, there is just a possibility they survived and I for one would not rule that out.

I don’t think any of us should have anything to fear by a redo, certainly not if our goal is the truth. This time, however, carbon dating must be done correctly and with complete transparency. Sampling, chemical analysis, cleaning and testing protocols must be developed by knowledgeable  representatives of various constituencies including radiocarbon dating scientists, archaeologists who have studied the shroud, chemists with special competence in flax and other materials that may be present on the cloth, ancient textile experts, the owners and/or custodians (Vatican/Archdiocese of Turin). The protocol must be widely published in detail well in advance of the testing. I would allow for a review panel and a public report.

Many open issues need to be addressed before testing. For instance, are there any unresolved questions about how suitable carbon dating is for linen as evidenced by tests on human and ibis mummies? Are there questions about the effect of thymol which was used to disinfect the shroud’s reliquary. There are controversies about such concerns and that is just the point. Resolve them or at least consider and account for them as much as possible.

To minimize future accusations of mistakes or shenanigans (I like that word), media representatives should be involved in every phase of the test. Clear ‘firewalls’ must be implemented and impartially observed for blind/control samples. All sample and subsample data including weight, chemical analysis, and radiocarbon dating must be preserved and made public.

16 thoughts on “Carbon Dating the Shroud of Turin Again?”

  1. Dan,

    My gut feeling is that the Vatican would consent to an valid, open protocol for testing the Shroud, the day after they ordain the first woman priest and the pope performs the first marriage of a priest. Recent collateral events reinforce the proposition that the Vatican is intent on controlling the story. On the other hand, a new pope which seems likely in the not too distant future could change things.

    The Shroud is a physical Revelation made in our time through science. As that reality grows, I am not sure how Rome will handle that.

  2. I personally don’t think the Shroud will ever be carbon dated again. I am not even sure any new testing at all will ever be done. I don’t see that there is a will to undertake all the logisitics necessary to make it acceptable to all parties. The position of the Church, calling it a “symbol of Christ’s sufferings worthy of veneration” gets them off the hook. Who can argue with word, “symbol”? It is a smart position for them to take…not calling it a relic or an icon. That position however allows them to be perfectly comfortable with the ambiguity regarding the carbon date or any other unanswered questions of science.

    1. For the Vatican, whether the Shroud is authentic or not is not that important. The importance is to whom this image refer to !!! Jesus is much more important than his image (whether it’s real or not) and the Church have understand that perfectly… Our faith MUST rely on a living person, Jesus-Christ, and not on his burial Shroud or his image. And we must never forget that the Church position about the authenticity issue is completely link with the scientific research. So, because it is that way, you can be sure that the Church will NEVER problaim this cloth to be the authentic burial cloth of Jesus since science will NEVER be able to do so ! It’s truly impossible for science to claim, without any doubt at all, that this cloth is really the one of Jesus. And that fact was clearly stated in many STURP publications. Of course, with all the circumstantial evidence we know about that cloth, the most likely conclusion, for the moment, is that this cloth is the authentic burial Shroud of Christ. But it’s just that : Circumstantial evidence. It’s different from an undeniable scientific proof… So, forget about a proclamation of the Church who would say : the Shroud is authentic. That will never come, even if many clergymen believe that this cloth is authentic.

  3. John and Russ, you are probably right. Nonetheless, I support the idea. The point is that we have nothing to fear in any such testing. And I would love to see new results from testing done right.

  4. With respect to Mr. Antonacci’s critique of Raymond Rogers’ 2005 paper, I do have a couple thoughts.

    His refutation is visual and Roger’s analysis is chemical. If there was an invisible french reweave, visual analysis would be inadequate to reveal the repair. Roger’s work revealed the presence of cotton, gums, dyes and resin. My question is what is cotton doing in a flax linen Shroud?

    Further, I wonder in what way a lawyer is qualified to dispute the results of a peer reviewed Chemist?

    1. Lawyers can be good in finding loopholes. Ray Rogers was on the whole a good scientist but he seemed to be dogmatic when it came to ideas on religion– and he was a chemist.

  5. About another carbon dating, would the 2002 chemical treatment pointed out by Rogers affect the dating? Does anyone know in what way that would affect a carbon dating?

  6. The 2002 chemical treatment involved thymol, a compound containing 10 carbons. Reactivity with Shroud would introduce new, “younger” carbons into the sample, with the potential for giving an artificially more recent date.

  7. That was Rogers opinion… I would really like to hear a radiocarbon expert about that. We must not forget that this was the reliquary that was treated with this stuff and not the cloth itself.

  8. Ray Rogers (Senior STURP Chemist) was ADAMENT that the Shroud could never be cleaned sufficiently of the Thymol (natural carbon) it was stored in to accurately carbon date it accurately. Therefore, ONLY if all scientists agree and prove that it’s clean of the thymol should it ever be carbon dated again. Obviously a second erroneous and early dating would destroy the Shroud’s credibility forever notwithstanding 24 peer-reviewed scientific articles supporting authenticity. Make no mistake about it, there are forces that would like nothing better than to destroy the Shroud’s credibility!

  9. Further carbon dating of the Shroud, I believe, at this point, would be wrong and fruitless. Until a better, more accurate method of testing and understanding of contamination are revealed. But at the same time there is no reason to NOT move forward in other testing that would have no effect on the Shroud whatsoever, as was put forward by the STURP team years ago. So many questions could be answered more precisely now; the blood, the pollen etc;. We now have a better idea of what to look for and can do so in a more rigorous and controlled way. If only the custodians would allow it.

    R

  10. I think it might be good for scientists to review Rogers’ method of dating using the lignin method. It might be good to know if there are any circumstances that could skew that result. We already know Rogers came up with a date far older than the carbon dating, it would be good to see other’s corroborate this work in this area.

  11. I e-mailed William Meacham about this issue & with his permission have put his reply below. He stresses that he has not studied this in detail & that is his opinion.

    Regarding thymol treatment & C-14 dating, he says that ” I doubt it would affect the C14 content to any appreciable extent, since the traces that might have been absorbed and later re-emitted from the reliquary and the various other cloths (case and pillows) would be very minor compared to the carbon content of the cellulose. And even if there was
    significant reaction with the cellulose, that would probably be detectable by
    various methods, and in the C13/C12 ratio.”

  12. I love this answer from Meacham. I love the direct opinions of Rogers and his work but I’m not sure his opinion about the Thymol issue necessarily mean that a new C14 would be wrong. I’m not sure that was what he mean anyway ! Also, in the documentary where we see him speak to Barrie Schwortz, he said that the charred material that was taken off the Shroud during the restoration and kept in Turin ever since would make very good samples because, in his mind, this kind of material could not have been affected at all by the Thymol treatment of the reliquary… And remember that we speak about a chemical treatment of the reliquary of the Shroud, and not the Shroud itself !!! I think this, too, must never be forget.

  13. Freeman wrote:

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    None of the explanations directly leads to a first-century dating, but:

    1) If the samples had been switched, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that the Turin shroud is first century, but it would certainly invalidate accepting the medieval results as determining the origin of the shroud. It would at least leaves open the possibility that the shroud is first century. To not acknowledge this is just disingenuous.

    2) If there had been some form of contamination, it again wouldn’t necessarily mean that the Turin shroud is first century, but it would certainly invalidate accepting the medieval results as determining the origin of the shroud. It leaves open the possibility that an uncontaminated sample of the shroud could be first century. Again, to not acknowledge this is just disingenuous.

    3) If there had been an invisible reweaving, a mixture of 16th century cloth and first century cloth would produce results very close to the mean results of the Oxford lab. (See http://www.shroud.com/pdfs/marben.pdf.) Once again, in this scenario, there is real possibility that the shroud could be 1st century.

    Along these lines, I just borrowed from my local library Freeman’s book, “Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe” In a book of over 300 pages, the only thing Freeman says about the Turin shroud is “Calvin also criticizes a shroud in which it is claimed that the body of Christ was wrapped while he was in the sepulchre. (It seems similar to the shroud then in Chambery, now in Turin, but there were many such shrouds by the sixteenth century.) However, as Jewish burial custom requires the head to be wrapped separately and John’s Gospel specifically states that ‘a napkin which had been over his head’ is described as lying apart from the other wrappings in the tomb (20:6), then that in itself is enough to destroy the authenticity of the shroud.”

    How many of those “many such shrouds” have had hundreds of thousands of hours of scientific analysis? Given the fact that the Turin shroud, even if it is a fake, was significant in both Italian and French medieval history, I find it amazing that less than 100 words were devoted to it. And for the life of me, I cannot understand the argument that a napkin negates the possibility that the Turin shroud was one of the other wrappings. To me, to so easily dismiss something that is probably the most studied object in human history, is the height of disingenuousness.

  14. For some reason, in my previous email, the quote from Freeman, which was to follow “Freeman wrote,” did not appear. His quote was:

    Those of us who stick to the presumption of the 1988 dating standing do so a) because in relation to the three possible alternatives, a swapping over of samples by the Cardinal and Tite, some form of contamination ( many different contaminants, soot, sweat, carbon monoxide suggested) or an invisible rewoven patch selected as the sample, critics of the testing disagree so violently among themselves – e.g see Antonacci’s critique of Raymond Rogers’ 2005 paper- that the independent observer cannot be convinced that a single clear refutation of the 1988 testing has been proposed by the critics b) There is not a hint in any of these critiques that resolution of the problems proposed would lead to a radio-carbon 14 dating in the first century.

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