Is Bilirubin Still Accepted as an Explanation for the Red Blood?

I was just about to post a link to an interview with Barrie Schwortz by Jim Graves that appeared in yesterday’s edition of The Catholic World Report when an email from one of this blog’s readers caught my attention.

“I just read the interview with Barrie Schwortz,” the reader wrote. “I thought the bilirubin explanation for the red blood was no longer accepted by scientists.”

Some scientists, I think.

Part of one of Barrie’s answers in The Shroud: Not a Painting, Not a Scorch, Not a Photograph reads:

For 17 years I refused to accept that the Shroud was authentic. The last argument holding me back was related to the blood. The blood on the Shroud is reddish, but blood on a cloth, even after just a few hours, should turn brown or black. I had a conversation with Alan Adler, a blood chemist, on the phone and I shared my reservation. He got upset and asked, “Didn’t you read my paper?”

He had found a high content of bilirubin on the Shroud, which explains why the blood on the Shroud is red. When a man is beaten and has had no water, he can go into shock and the liver starts pumping out bilirubin. It makes the blood stay red forever. It was the last piece of the puzzle for me. I had nothing left to complain about. Sometimes I wonder why I hadn’t asked Alan Adler that question 17 years before, but I guess I wasn’t ready for the answer back then.

Although this was the final evidence that convinced me, it is no one particular piece of evidence that proves the Shroud is authentic. The entirety of evidence indicates that it is.

Ray Rogers and Anna Arnoldi, in a paper, Scientific Method Applied to the Shroud of Turin: A Review, published on Barrie’s site in 2002 argues:

The warp of ancient linen was protected with starch during weaving and the finished cloth was washed in Saponaria officinalis suds. Saponaria is hemolytic, which could explain why the old blood stains on the cloth are still red. Diane Soran (deceased) of Los Alamos, tested hemolysis on Saponaria-washed cloth before we went to Turin. The blood is still red on those 25-year-old samples. Controls are black.

And didn’t Sam Pellicori discover that fibers inside a blood soaked thread were brown while the fibers on the outside were red? If so, does this not lend credence to the idea that the blood remained red due to a hemolytic agent such as Saponaria officinalis (Soapwort) instead of bilirubin.  Small amounts of dissolved soap might have ended up on the outer surface of the threads due to evaporation concentration.  As the cloth dried, moisture wicked its way to the surface to evaporate into the air. As the water made its way to the surface it would have carried with it dissolved starch fractions and saccharides. As the water evaporated into the air these chemicals were deposited as a thin coating on the outermost fibers of the thread.

Here is a sample of some of the postings on this blog that relate:

Ten Questions for Alan Adler by Kelly Kearse

Blood Clotting and the Strange Case of Brother Hirudo

Let’s Talk Red Blood: Bilirubin, Saponaria officinalis and UV

The Orphaned Manuscript and the Color of Blood

Was Adler’s Analysis Science?

A Bold Conclusion: the Blood, the Image, the Man

How much bilirubin?

Now we are cooking with Sciencebod

If you want to fill up your weekend try this Google search: bilirubin. You can also enter “Bilirubin” into the blog search box.

Note: The photograph is of Barrie Schwortz (CNS photo/Paul Haring). It has not been copied or directly posted here. This is an inline image that appears on The Catholic World Report.

33 thoughts on “Is Bilirubin Still Accepted as an Explanation for the Red Blood?”

  1. I actually heard Barrie give a talk down here in S. NM and he stated both as potential reasons why the blood remained red. Never heard any of the blood was brown. From where does this statement come.

  2. This is a good topic for discussion, however it is for the experts. Dr. Kelly Kearse has already expressed his views. Is there any other expert who has anything to say?

  3. Scientists are a highly disparate bunch. To say the bilirubin hypothesis is “accepted” or “not accepted” implies that the amorphous entity called “scientists” has at least heard of the Shroud, which I fear it hasn’t.

    Heller and Adler’s first paper on blood, “Blood on the Shroud of Turin”, 1980, in spite of some detailed discussion of the degradation of blood, does not mention bilirubin at all. It is a review of some microspectrum photometry carried out on “less than a dozen possible bloodstained fibrils and a single brownish red translucent crystal.”

    The first mention of bilirubin in connection with the Shroud seems to be in ‘A Chemical Investigation of the Shroud of Turin’, Heller and Adler, 1981. “Characteristic blue azobilirubin colors could be positively detected in reflected light on the surfaces of the olive coloured shards, the orange globs, and, also, weakly on the more orange colored red coated fibrils.” The redder coloured fibrils are specifically excluded from this analysis.

    Another roughly contemporaneous paper, “The Origin and Nature of Blood on the Turin Shroud”, which I can only find in ‘The Orphaned Manuscript”, goes in more detail into the bilirubin content, based on the microspectrum photometry previously mentioned. “There is an extraordinarily high bilirubin count, almost as high as the methemoglobin.” There is no explanation of how this was derived, and it is not apparent to me, after studying the spectrum as illustrated in the 1980 paper. In further discussion Adler proposes that mixing orange bilirubin with brown methemoglobin would result in the carmine red stains we see on the Shroud today. I disagree.

    Bilirubin is orange.

    It cannot be made red by mixing it with brown.

    1. Sorry Hugh. Adler never said that the bilirubin is what made the blood still red. He explained to me that bilirubin was a hemolytic agent that broke down the cell walls of the red blood cells releasing hemoglobin, which is what caused the blood stains to remain red.

      1. And Barrie, if may I ask, despite many criticism of the association of the red blood with bilirubin, do you still keep to this theory? I know you mention this story about Adler and bilirubin in almost every interview…

        1. I mention this story in my lectures and interviews because it was that conversation with Adler that ultimately tipped me towards accepting the Shroud’s authenticity. I already knew the image was not a painting, scorch or photograph but until Adler and I had that conversation, the reddish color of the blood was a stumbling point for me (and Vern Miller as well). That conversation took place about seven years before I learned of Rogers’ work with Sapponaria, so I now mention both in my lectures.

  4. Has anyone ever demonstrated what Adler claimed? Has one experiment ever been attempted? Has anyone seen a picture of an experimental result? Hunches are not evidence.

    1. Alan Adler was a noted blood chemist, a member of STURP and he directly examined the blood on the Shroud and performed microchemical analysis on the samples. He published his work in credible scientific journals. His conclusions were anything but hunches.

      1. Hi Barrie I understand you are Jewish, but believe in the Shroud’s authenticity? Please correct me if I am wrong. If that is correct, what is your theory for the image creation?

        1. Yes, that is correct. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home. However, if I could answer your second question with any authority I could stop doing this and go do something else! I know what the image is NOT. I still do not have any idea of what mechanism can create an image with the same chemical and physical properties as the image on the Shroud. But I’ve only been doing this for 38 years. Maybe next year…

  5. BTW I think the TS is real. I just don’t like seeing statements like bilirubin makes blood stay red forever when this has not been shown to be true.

    1. I guess it depends on what you define as true. With the exception of Kelly Kearse, who often posts to this blog and is himself an expert in DNA and blood, there is no one in this group of bloggers as qualified as Adler was to draw those conclusions. He was a brilliant blood chemist, knew exactly what he was doing and he studied the actual blood of the Shroud. He was also one of the other Jewish members of the STURP team, so he had no pro-authenticity agenda and was only interested in analyzing the samples using the tests that were available to him and doing good chemistry. In my opinion, he did.

  6. “And didn’t Sam Pellicori discover that fibers inside a blood soaked thread were brown while the fibers on the outside were red?” I’ve not come across this before, as far as I know. Where did he get his blood soaked thread from? As far as I know no threads were taken from the shroud in 1978, blood stained or not, so where did this one come from?

    1. Yes Dan: “And didn’t Sam Pellicori discover that fibers inside a blood soaked thread were brown while the fibers on the outside were red?”

      Where does it come from ?

      I now disagree with Adler’s ‘bilirubin hypothesis’.
      There are many reasons, the first being, as Hugh wrote, that ‘mixing orange bilirubin with brown methemoglobin’ can not be made red or pink.

      The second one is explained in:
      ‘However, a recent experiment (Svensson, 2010)
      demonstrates that, after four months, no detectable
      difference in color could be found between normal blood
      and blood with very high levels of bilirubin.’

      The third reason is that this hypothesis has been studied in depth by van der Hoeven in:

      This is an extraordinary interesting paper.
      We may agree or not with her conclusions, but there are some interesting information about the ‘bilirubin hypothesis’.

      There is no doubt that the bloodstains are truly bloodstains.

      Why are those bloodstains too red/pink? It is a problem that has not been resolved today, but the ‘bilirubin hypothesis’ is no more reliable. There are many other hypotheses (Saponaria, post-mortem acid heme-madder lake on madder-and-starch coated Shroud…).

    2. Good question Hugh, but perhaps it is a moot point. Pellicori was an optical physicist (an expert in optics and lenses) who actually designed and built one of the instruments we used to examine the Shroud in 1978. In my opinion, his personal observation of a single thread or fiber has no more bearing on the chemical analyses done by Adler than the comments on this blog. My money is still on Adler.

  7. What is the consensus on the color of the Sudarium bloodstains (those corresponding to the back of the head, away from the presumed dilution by pulmonary fluid)?

    The VDH paper emphasizes the point that the (treated) cloth must be considered as a variable when evaluating the bloodstain color.

  8. “He was also one of the other Jewish members of the STURP team, so he had no pro-authenticity agenda”

    To write that ethnicity amounts to objectivity is not a good idea. Instead of taking Adler’s Bilirubin conclusion for Gospel truth, you should go on google and read what other people determined concerning Bilirubin and blood colour. It’s very explicit and dark.
    P.S- That some authentic active proponents on this website disagree with Adler speaks volumes.


  9. Perhaps it is simply a question of finding a sample of human blood of a similar redness and working from there. So far no forensic expert I have asked has ever seen dried human blood this red.

  10. Sorry, Dr. Schwortz. You say, “Adler never said that the bilirubin is what made the blood still red.”

    But in “The Origin and Nature of Blood on the Turin Shroud” by Alan D. Adler published in “The Orphaned Manuscript: A Gathering of Publications on the Shroud of Turin”, Dr. Adler did actually say, “You now mix bilirubin which is yellow-orange with methemoglobin in its para-hemic form which is an orangey- brown and you get blood which has a red color.”

    What am I missing?

    You put a great deal of emphasis on Dr. Adler’s expertise. Fair enough. I don’t doubt it. But if you do so you should also consider the expertise of Dr. Colin Berry and his questioning of Dr. Adler in his blog posting, “It’s clever, some might say pretty, but is it science?” at (2012/4/20). To wit,

    “re Alan Adler’s protocols: it’s easy to be impressed by lists of the tests he did perform to confirm “real” blood, albeit degraded. But one has to be a specialist in the area of tetrapyrroles, whether cyclic, like the porphrins, or linear like the bile pigments, to know that uv.visible and fluorescence spectra alone do not provide proof positive. For two years I was a bile pigment specialist, working on Philadelphia on the phototherapy of neonatal jaundice, and teamed up with a then major drug company (SKF) to use state-of-the-art methodology for identifying bilirubin photo-derivatives. key among those were initial thin layer chromatography, followed by derivitization to form volatile TMS-derivatives, followed by mass-spectometry. We were not content to look just for finger-printing fragments – we regarded detection of the molecular ion as our goal.

    “That was in 1972, well before the STURP studies, but nowhere have I seen Alan Adler using such rigorous methodology to confirm that he was detecting porphyrins, as distinct form substances with porphyrin-like spectra and fluorescence. Nor have I seen any real evidence for the existence of bilirubin, apart from diazo-reactivity and fluorescence. Why no chromatography? Why no mass spec? Why inflict a quirky conjecture involving a trauma induced bilirubin and “para-hemic” methaemoglobin to explain the permanent red colour of the “blood”? That is not science – that is daydreaming and pure fantasy.”

  11. Barrie is entirely correct to defend Adler as the most qualified and the most experienced scientist to work on the blood of the Shroud, and his (and Joseph Heller’s) account of what they did is extremely useful. However, by his own admission the conclusions he drew from his observations were tentative, and where they appear contradictory anybody is entitled to ask for clarification. Scientists are also allowed to change their minds, and sometimes contradictions in an entire corpus can be explained like that, but again anybody is entitled to ask why. I have been trying to find a copy of The Orphaned Manuscript ever since I first knew of it, without success – perhaps it will appear on shortly – and perhaps that will make Adler’s thinking clearer.

    1. The Orphaned Manuscript will be published in our next website update in late April or early May, along with the final two issues of Shroud Spectrum International.

      1. I shall look forward to reading it in full Mr.Schwortz – having so far had to be content with the redacted version on Google Books. Incidentally, I confidently expect it to say that it’s hemolysis that results in an increase in plasma bilirubin – not the other way round, as implied by that unhelpful and indeed questionable description of bilirubin as a “hemolytic agent”. The latter property, if really true (and not misheard) may conceivably be demonstrable under test-tube conditions, using protein-free buffers at non-physiological pH, but is unlikely to be seen in vivo, given the poor solubility of (unconjugated) bilirubin in aqueous buffers and its near complete binding to serum albumin that helps to “keep it out of mischief.”

        1. Pause for thought? It’s needed certainly, if one’s to go on quoting (misquoting?) Alan Adler, correctly or otherwise, as having (allegedly) described bilirubin as a “hemolytic agent”.

          Bilirubin is an end-product of hemolysis. I have never heard it described previously as a hemolytic agent. Were that the case, then jaundice would be a horrendous condition, subject to positive feedback control (more bilirubin, more hemolysis, more bilirubin, more hemolysis etc etc).

          It’s time the bilirubin story was given a decent burial. There was simply no solid analytical foundation upon which to implicate bilirubin in the colour of the Shroud blood stains.

          Bilirubin is unstable to light and oxygen anyway, as Adler himself acknowledged several years later in his conservation paper. Bilirubin never preserved anything. Biliribin cannot even preserve itself (self-sensitizing its own destruction via generation of the active oxygen species – singlet oxygen).

  12. Knowing absolutely nothing whatsoever about the chemistry of blood, I should still think that working on what purport to be ancient bloodstains, badly fragmented, is rather a different matter from working on blood samples recently taken from persons in a modern clinic, whether suffering from neo-natal jaundice or otherwise. During the period 1969-76, a secret commission appointed by Cardinal Pellegrino attempted to analyse the stains on the Shroud. The several scientists included Prof Frache at Modena (forensics & blood), Prof Filogamo at Turin (blood-analysis). At that time the normal tests for blood included: Peroxidase method commonly used to detect hemoglobin; benzidine turns blue, phenolphthaline turns pink; tests unsuccessful; failed to dissolve granules with acetic acid, oxygenated water, glycerin of potassium. Clearly they faced a problem which they were not able to resolve at that time. When their work was put to Adler around 1978, he had at that time had achieved some success with examining blood under UV light and with the resulting fluorescence.

    The tests that Adler was able to perform seem to have been constrained by the inability to put these ancient stains into solution by the normal methods used when faced with a recent sample. Consequently he seems to have been obliged to carry out such tests as could best be achieved according to his recent research.

    I have little doubt that Dr Berry is fully knowledgeable about aspects of blood chemistry, including bilirubin. However, the presentations he has submitted here have the disadvantage of showing him to be something of a hostile witness and quite unsympathetic to any prospects of authenticity. That is a pity, as doubtless he is quite knowledgeable about such matters, but for this correspondent, I am unable to grant him the credibility I would prefer to be able to. Very likely he reciprocates this courtesy.

    1. Adler had to work with microscopic particles of blood lifted from the Shroud by Rogers’ tape samples. I am sure that was a limitation not encountered by Dr. Carter in his work. Also, we know the samples he tested were at least 700 years old. Adler was extremely cautious about making claims for the blood and even referred to it as “primate” blood rather than human. This was noted again in a recent posting by Kelly Kearse who explained that the more sophisticated tests in use today were not available to Adler in 1978. I think everyone agrees that new testing should be done at some point in the future that could answer these questions more completely.

  13. ” However, the presentations he has submitted here have the disadvantage of showing him to be something of a hostile witness and quite unsympathetic to any prospects of authenticity”

    What about Adler ? Was he neutral and objective?

    1. This retired scientist (now kitchen laboratory blogger) is certainly no longer neutral re authenticity, and has not been since 1988 and the radiocarbon dating. (Those here who doubt the result should be pressing Turin to agree to a follow-up with sampling from more central regions of the TS, assuming they can tolerate the ‘defilement’ which must also have been a factor in folks’ minds when the corner snip was mistakenly taken and relied upon as a ‘representative’ sample). However, not being neutral does not mean one ceases to be objective in the design and reporting of experiments. Switching between subjective and ob jective modes is the essence of the scientific modus operandi. Not many people (here especially) seem to appreciate that. Science is all about riding two horses, maybe not simultaneously, but certainly consecutively/alternately. and knowing when to switch from one to the other.

      1. “Those here who doubt the result should be pressing Turin to agree to a follow-up with sampling from more central regions of the TS,”

        They would actively lobby for a new radiocarbon dating if they really thought that the shroud was 2000 years old Colin.

        1. Don’t hold your breath.PHPL. Who was it who said (on camera) at St.Louis in October last year that a rerun of the radiocarbon dating would be “dangerous?” Collapsing cloth anyone? Dematerialized corpse? Niuff said. And they accuse ME of bias!

        2. Hi Patrick

          There has been some misunderstanding when it comes to radiocarbon dating. The Shroud is not an article of faith. Now if you would like to see some convincing arguments about why C14 will not necessarily lead to the truth read Ian Wilson’s “The Shroud. The 2000-year-old mystery solved”.
          As you know, many Shroudies, including pro-authenticity ones, have called for a rerun of radiocarbon dating. See the last question:

    2. Hi Patrick
      Regarding your query about Dr. Alan Adler, he had no axe to grind and being an erudite scientist he was also objective. He was also the only American on the Commission for the Conservation of the Shroud formed in Turin.

  14. I’d be lobbying for a complete second round of non-destructive observation aka STURP 2.0. This is at least something the Vatican may consider. I’m also confident that this time, knowing what to look for specifically, sufficient evidence will be found to prove or disprove authenticity.

    1. I agree David. In fact, I believe Turin agrees as well. See the paper by Bruno Barberis, president of the Turin Center for the Study of the Shroud, which was presented at the Valencia Conference in 2012. It was titled Perspectives for the Future Study of the Shroud. Here’s the link: It would require creating a new group of independent researchers, formulating a comprehensive test plan and submitting it to the authorities for review and approval. That’s exactly what STURP did in 1978.

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