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The End of the Road for Pollen?

Shortly after I became interested in the Shroud in 2001, I was reading about plant pollen from Palestine, nebulous images of flowers, even indefinite images of coins over Jesus’ eyes, and other indistinct objects that people saw on the cloth.   I don’t remember who warned me to be cautious and skeptical of anything identified visually by just one or two people. When many of us see something, and many of us can correctly identify it, then and only then, should we believe that it is there.

The pollen was really there. That was seen by many people, even photographed. But the identification of individual grains– what were they and where were they from — was the issue. It was often inconclusive and sometimes controversial. An important paper, The question of pollen grains on the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo by Emanuela Marinelli, carefully examines years of research.  Nothing seems definitive. Nothing seems certain. It was not something that we should have accepted without question. Thus I was surprised when I read on the very new website, Sign From God:

Fact: Dust and pollen found on the Shroud are native to where, according to the Bible, Jesus lived and walked.

I wondered: would a statement like this survive scrutiny in a modern courtroom? For example, during a cross-examination, could we not ask what would it mean if pollen native to, let’s say, the North American Appalachian Mountains was found on the Shroud? 

That is not an absurdity. It turns out to be true. In what may be the most interesting and most scientific study of pollen on the Shroud, Uncovering the sources of DNA found on the Turin Shroud, Gianni Barcaccia, Giulio Galla, Alessandro Achilli, Anna Olivieri & Antonio Torroni state in Scientific Reports, (October 5, 2015):

With regard to the land plant species identified, some are native to Mediterranean countries and widespread throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and are thus compatible with both a rather recent Medieval origin in Europe and a more ancient Near Eastern origin. However, others have a center of origin in Eastern Asia and the Americas and were introduced to Europe only after the Medieval period. Clearly, the latter species cannot help in discriminating between alternative scenarios.

In other words, we can’t know if the pollen that seemingly points to the Palestinian region is unique to just that area or a wider Near Eastern area. The question is how wide. Moreover, if East Asian and American pollen are certainly later contaminants, shouldn’t we also realize that what is presumably Palestinian pollen could also have been a post-medieval contaminant? Why not?

At the end of the day, the only reasonable conclusion is that without further studies, we cannot conclude anything from the pollen.

Can someone design a study that figures out when and how pollen is deposited on the Shroud? Or have we reached the end of the road on this subject?

* Scientific Reports is an Open Access journal published by Nature

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