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Doubting the Pollen Evidence

“… data concerning pollen grains should not be used in Shroud research.”
but on the other hand, “… we must not be too hasty to dismiss it altogether”

We have discussed the pollen many times in this blog*.  The subject came up again recently in some comments to the posting, New YouTube Presentation: Is the Shroud a Medieval Forgery? In the discussion, Hugh Farey (pictured) makes reference to an article he wrote, Problems with Pollen, for the British Society for the Turin Shroud Newletter 79.

First to the blog comments. A paper from the Valencia conference, The question of pollen grains on the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo, by Emanuela Marinelli, came up in the discussion. Hugh responded:

Professor Marinelli’s paper is an an excellent review of the evidence, but does not comment or evaluate it very thoroughly. She does have the advantage of Max Frei’s articles in Italian, which seem to have been more comprehensive than his account in Shroud Spectrum International, but I do not think they clarify the case.

To review a little of what Frei is quoted as having said:

“The tapes are put in contact with a light pressure, and, due to their stickiness, when they are detached, they remove all the microtraces without damaging or altering the support in any way.” — If Frei changed his tactics between 1973 and 1978, when he applied the tapes with such force the STuRP team were horrified, then there should be a big difference between the amount of debris on them. If a light pressure was all that was needed in 1973, why did he change his modus operandi in 1978?

“The advantage of this method, widely used in criminology, is that – once the tape is folded on itself – loss of material or secondary contamination are completely excluded.” — Fine, but he didn’t fold the tapes in on themselves; he stuck them to microscope slides, as in the photos at http://llanoestacado.org/freeinquiry//skeptic/shroud/as/schafersman.html.

“In subsequent analyses of dust samples it was possible to find and classify a large number of pollen grains which, properly treated, have allowed the precise determination of the family, genus and species of the plant itself.” — It is not true that pollen is classifiable at species level even today, and was even less so 40 years ago.

“Each identification result was checked on herbarium material and in botanical gardens worldwide renowned for their collections, as well as documented in photomicrographic surveys.” — I’m afraid that without proper documentation I simply don’t believe this. In the absence of adequate comparison material Frei went to places he thought were relevant and collected his own. Whether he made a micrographical survey is open to doubt.

And so on.

Antero de Frias Moreira had commented. So Hugh replied:

Antero’s last comment reads “… Professors Danin and Baruch who confirmed many of Frei’s taxonomical pollen classification at least at genus level.”

Really? Prof. Danin has changed his mind about the validity of any of Frei’s findings.. In 1998 he wrote (http://www.shroud.com/danin2.htm):

“Dr. Uri Baruch, palynologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority who made his M.SC. and Ph.D. dissertations on the flora of Israel, analyzed most of Frei’s 1973 sticky tape pollen specimens and ten of the twenty-five 1978 sticky tapes. He examined 165 pollen grains, of which 45 (27.3%) were Gundelia tournefortii.”

But in 2011, he wrote (http://flora.org.il/en/books/plant-stories-2/chapter-o/useful_plants_06/):

“The sample we used in our previous publications is the grain presented on the left side of Fig. 15.2.2. [a single ‘Shroud’ pollen previously identified as Gundelia tournefortii]. At first sight one can say that it has “thorns” similar to those on the right side of Fig. 15.2.2. [a group of modern pollen identified as Gundelia tournefortii]. However, looking more thoroughly, one can see that the “thorns” of the right photograph are more pointed and denser compared to the “thorns” in the left photograph. The right photograph is of grains taken from a Gundelia tournefortii flowers. It is not the same as the grain on the left.”

and

“Prof. Litt concluded that none of the pollen grains he saw could be named at a species level. Hence, all the conclusions drawn from previous palynological investigations of Dr. Frei’s material should be suspended until a new collection of pollen grains can be carried out and the grains thus obtained can be studied with modern equipment and by an expert of pollen of this area.”

and finally

“Since writing [Prof. Litt’s] conclusions in 2001 no pollen grains have been collected and investigated as he suggested, so the data concerning pollen grains should not be used in Shroud research.”

[…]

Hugh’s article warrants your full attention. His conclusion is a good place to start as long as you go back to the top and read the entire report:

So, what are we to make of Max Frei’s pollen identification, and the conclusions he drew from it. I think the question must remain open. In spite of all the secrecy and confusion there remain a few grains of pollen from some exclusively wind-blown Middle Eastern trees that are difficult to explain except that they fell on the Shroud while it was in Israel. Perhaps, if Thomas Litt’s analysis is ever published, we will discover that the entire assemblage has been over-optimistically interpreted, but if not, we must not be too hasty to dismiss it altogether.

To see all the discussion of pollen in this blog, explore these searches:

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