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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.

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