In the Weeds: Vanillin and the Age of the Shroud

Is there any validity believing that a lack of vanillin says anything about the shroud’s age?

imageTopic drift is a fact of life in this blog and almost every blog I’ve encountered. It is not a problem; it’s a useful feature. We were talking about radiation models for the images on the shroud and the subject of vanillin came up; it’s not important why. This caused Colin Berry to respond in the weeds – that is over in his blog – with an unrelated update to a posting on a different subject. Anyway that is how we got to this yesterday:

Vanillin is not a separate component from lignin. In fact it’s not even a component of  flax or linen. It’s a degradation product of lignin, derived from oxidation, side-chain shortening (loss of 2 carbons)  and detachment starting with one particular  monomer in the complex resinous polyphenol that is lignin, ie. coniferaldehye. See my earlier posting on the subject, this site.

Ray Rogers no less described and discussed vanillin as though it were a preformed component of lignin that gradually reduced with age. Nope: as the lignin oxidizes, the vanillin is newly formed, and being a relatively small molecule, gradually evaporates away, being responsible for the distinctive aroma of old lignin (the ability to detect it by smell being a sure sign that molecules are escaping into the air).

Anyway, if you haven’t read [Colin’s] earlier posting on the subject, you should. Do we really understand if the vanillin claim is valid?

And if you want to know what in the weeds means, it is this: In golf, when a shot lands on the fairway, it’s in plain sight in easy-to-play short grass. When a shot lands to the side, it’s in unkempt grass, and the golfer wastes time trying to find the lost ball. He’s literally "in the weeds".  And Colin wants to know why Google and people don’t find what he writes about on his blog.  There is a practical limit to topic drift.  What does comments about vanillin have to do with Here’s an updated version of my ‘iconoplastic’ modelling of that Turin so-called “Shroud” (probably a misnomer)?

Anyway, NOW, the topic is vanillin and the question is this: Is there any validity believing that a lack of vanillin says anything about the shroud’s age?

“Tell me this,” Colin writes:

What is the use of a clock that is either running, or has stopped completely? That is the situation with the Shroud linen. We are asked to believe that it’s the absence of Wiesner-reactive lignin that is the reason, ie that it is incredibly aged.

Sorry, I don’t buy that. The “vanillin clock” is so poorly documented that I decline to believe that the absence of a positive test is necessarily to do with age. It could be due to any number of factors….

And Colin gives us an alternate possibility, the sort of thing lawyers like to do to make us have reasonable doubts about a defendant in a criminal trial:

… someone decided to fumigate the reliquary (see my earlier comment). They removed the TS, then inserted a lit sulphur candle. Later the candle was removed, and the TS replaced, with its long sides folded in towards the middle before folding or rolling. Residual SO2 made better contact with the central regions of the TS than with the edges. So the reactive aldehyde groups of lignin in the initially peripheral Raes threads were better protected from the SO2 than the more central threads.

I’m not suggesting this was the actual process that gave the difference between Raes v the rest, but it’s an indication of the uncertainties that attach to using a chemical as distinct from radioactive clock, where one is at the mercy of environmental conditions that one can only guess at, as I am guessing right now.

Comment Promoted: Thibault Heimburger on Rogers’ Discoveries

clip_image001Thibault writes in a comment to 50/50 : Colin Berry’s Most Outlandish Proposal. Comments follow by anoxie, Charles Freeman and Colin Berry. Join in there or here. This was just too important a comment to not be at the posting level:

. . . Actually, all of Rogers’ discoveries (the strongly anomalous cotton content, the dye and, last but not least, the vanillin tests) were performed on several threads coming from the Raes sample adjacent to the C14 samples. Those Raes threads were given to STURP (in fact Rogers) on the order of Card. Ballestrero himself. No secret here.

Since the Raes sample and the C14 samples necessarily shared at least some threads, Rogers thought that the entire Raes/C14 corner was not representative of the bulk of the TS. However, as a true scientist, he wanted to verify specifically this point.

Later, he could obtain 2 tiny pieces of threads coming from the center of the C14 dated sample. He could confirm the presence of dye as well as the very high amount of cotton in these 2 threads. To my knowledge, for some reasons (lack of time or smallness of the samples or..) he did not perform the test for the vanillin on these C14 pieces of thread.

Shortly, Rogers’s discoveries re the anomalous characteristics of the Raes/C14 corner came from the detailed study of an arguably representative genuine sample (Raes piece 1). He confirmed them on 2 small pieces from the center of the C14 sample. Those pieces were truly from the center of the C14 sample and there is a clear “chain of custody”, although unpublished for understandable reasons.
One can discuss endless each of his observations but taking them together they point to the only scientifically acceptable contestation of the C14 results.

I agree that it’s difficult to accept knowing the opposite conclusions of the textile experts (F.Testore, G. Vial and M. Flury-Lemberg).
But read carefully what follows:
My friend journalist Brice Perrier, after a detailed investigation wrote a book in 2011: “Qui a peur du Saint Suaire ?” (in French, Ed. Florent Massot, 2011). This is simply the best serious investigation that includes many interviews of most people (pro and cons) involved in the TS.

He wrote (p.126):
“I went to see one who was recommended to me by both archaeologists and Lyon textile museum experts as the best expert in ancient fabrics, Christophe Moulherat.”
Brice told me that, at the time, Moulherat did not know that the C14 samples came from a single location rather than from three different locations as he thought. He was shocked and added (p.242): “for this kind of fabric, I would have at least chosen to test separately warp and weft threads coming from at least two different locations”

Brice: “I asked him if there were actually invisible repairs.
[Moulherat’s answer]:
‘No, they can be seen if you have the means to see them. Just do a thorough analysis. But for that, you must have access to the fabric and do not look to the naked eye because there you’ll see nothing (..).You need microscopes.
If one has tampered threads with the desire to hide something, you have to think about that before and you have to be equipped to see that. Otherwise, if the repair is well done you can miss it. You really need a detailed analysis’.

G. Vial and F. Testore are/were beyond any doubt competent textile experts but the conditions of the C14 sampling were far from those necessary to detect a repair.