A Bizarre New Claim on the Shroud of Turin

Sharon Hill reports on a bizarre new “theory” from some Italian researchers that the Shroud of Turin may be real because there might have been an earthquake and that earthquake might have released neutrons and those neutrons might have been capable of creating such imprints. The Telegraph has the details:

The Turin Shroud may not be a medieval forgery after all, after scientists discovered it could date from the time of Christ…

However a new study claims than an earthquake in Jerusalem in 33AD may have not only created the image but may also have skewed the dating results.

The Italian team believes the powerful magnitude 8.2 earthquake would have been strong enough to release neutron particles from crushed rock.

This flood of neutrons may have imprinted an X-ray-like image onto the linen burial cloth, say the researches.

In addition, the radiation emissions would have increased the level of carbon-14 isotopes in the Shroud, which would make it appear younger.

“We believe it is possible that neutron emissions by earthquakes could have induced the image formation on the Shroud’s linen fibres, through thermal neutron capture on nitrogen nuclei, and could also have caused a wrong radiocarbon dating,” said Professor Alberto Carpinteri, from the Politecnico di Torino.

Other scientists have previously suggested that neutron radiation may have been responsible for the ghostly image of a crucified man with his arms crossed.

However, no plausible explanation has been offered for the source of the radiation.

Now Carpinteri’s team have hypothesized that high-frequency pressure waves generated in the Earth’s crust during earthquakes are the source of such neutron emissions.

The scientists base the idea on research into piezonuclear fission reactions which occur when brittle rock is crushed under enormous pressure.

Neutron radiation is usually generated by nuclear fusion or fission, and may be produced by nuclear reactors or particle accelerators.

During the process, neutron particles are released from atoms.

A powerful earthquake could achieve the same effect, generating neutron radiation from stresses in the Earth, it is claimed.

Hill’s response is spot on:

That explanation is way too incredible and convenient. Yes, it may be that an earthquake actually happened. But the relation to Jesus is tenuous, since Jesus’ history is tenuous. The study claims a big earthquake could have happened which could have released neutron emissions that could have been at play in the image and dating. Sorry, too many “coulds”, with no evidence. We’ve had plenty of big earthquakes. Where is the precedence for neutron emissions or imprints on cloth? There isn’t any. They are piling “miracles” upon “miracles”.

Richard Carrier is literally laughing out loud at the whole thing. In fact, the article is so absurd that he thinks it’s a joke being pulled off by the authors. He points out that not one of the many historians working in the area whose works we have today ever bothered to mention this massive earthquake that the authors claim did such extraordinary damage and notes a few other howlers as well:

They pause to tell us, in this peer reviewed, science journal article (I swear I’m not making this up), that this earthquake that in fact no one documented and Matthew made up “also would have involved to a total cost for the reconstruction that, if the current dollar amount of damages were listed, it would be between 1.0 and 5.0 million dollars.” WTF? Okay, pause to laugh before continuing.

It gets worse. They say their sources (in fact the earthquake catalogs, per above) report “the Old Jerusalem earthquake is classified as an average devastating seismic event that…also destroyed the City of Nisaea [they mean Nicea], the port of Megara, located at west of the Isthmus of Corinth.” Holy mother puss buckets. Can that line really have ever been written by someone not kidding? Where do I begin. Nicea is in Turkey. Hundreds of miles east of Corinth (in fact entirely on the opposite side of Greece from Corinth, and across an entire sea, which the humans call the Aegean), and Megara (which, needless to add, is not Nicea nor even on the same continent as Nicea) is not west of Corinth (or the Isthmus thereof), but east of it. And being in Greece, this is still nowhere near Jerusalem. And they claim this earthquake that wreaked havoc in Jerusalem also destroyed Nicea and (?) Megara in 33 AD.

So, what they are claiming is an earthquake, which toppled cities across basically the entirety of the Eastern Roman Empire (simultaneously devastating the entire regions of Palestine, Turkey, and Greece), that no one in antiquity ever noticed or was in any way affected by. I am nearly persuaded these authors cannot have meant to have said this in anything but grand jest.

This thing pass peer review? Really?

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  • evodevo

    When arguing with a Shroud believer, just say “John 20: 6-7” and make them look it up and then defend the shroud.

  • Michael Heath

    What’s really ironic is the Shroud is portrays the image of Medieval Anglo-Jesus rather than that of a semite from that area and period. In addition, if an image was imprinted on the shroud by a body, it would be mashed and not rendered as a 2D image.

  • http://thebronzeblog.wordpress.com/ Bronze Dog

    As much as I poke fun and try to remain aware of the historical context that shaped Christianity, I’m usually not very good at remembering the local geography. I just write blog comments and the like. If, however, someone publishes a journal article making historical claims, I’d expect them to at least have a passing familiarity with it.

  • Mr Ed

    Lets assume for a second that there was an earthquake and it release neutrons there still isn’t any connection to it have been used on a god. Just because I have an axe from 1760’s Virginia doesn’t make it the axe that George Washington chopped down the cherry tree with. Even if there is a stain that just might be cherry juice.

  • Michael Heath

    Speaking of Richard Carrier and this topic, he recently a published a blog post promoting an amateur historian’s argument on the resurrection of Jesus. The Kindle version of Kris Komarnitsky’s Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box? can be downloaded for free this weekend.

    Mr. Komarnitsky doesn’t a provide a complete set arguable narratives that could have led to the New Testament claim of a resurrected Jesus. Instead Komarnitsky argues for one version, his version. That version presumes a historical Jesus existed and was crucified, where he concedes there’s no empirical evidence either of these premises can be validated.

  • colnago80

    The original C14 study was conducted by Harry Gove, from whom I took a course in electromagnetism as a graduate student. Since then, there have been any number of claims of inaccuracy of the study, none of which have any basis in reality. They consist of making shit up. As one of the commentors in the first linked site points out, there was no mention of the shroud until 1360, which is in agreement with Gove’s results.

  • colnago80

    Re Michael Heath @ #5

    That’s rather surprising considering that Carrier has been claiming that there no evidence as to the existence of a historical Yeshua of Nazareth for years, let alone a resurrection.

  • garnetstar

    Neutrons? Neutron emission is a nuclear reaction that happens during fission and fusion. There should be some evidence of the equivalent of an atomic bomb blast. LIke, many unusul radioactive isotopes formed in the area, aka fallout.

    Neutrons that bombard nitrogen in the upper atmosphere and turn it into C-14 do arise from nuclear reactions, in the sun and other stars. No chemical reaction, as would have occured in an earthquake, no matter at how high temperature and pressure, can cause neutron emission.

    I see that this article is published in what seems to be an engineering or geological journal (Meccanica). I’ll hve to tell their editors to send article to reviewers that actually have the expertise to assess papers. As in, learn some chemistry!

  • TxSkeptic

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and like Sharon Hill, all I saw was a bunch of weasel words like ‘may have’ and ‘could have’.

  • Al Dente

    A massive earthquake occurred, so big it devastated two cities hundreds of miles apart, yet nobody anywhere else noticed it happening. Also this earthquake did something no other earthquake did, it mumble mumblesome neutrons which changed how carbon-14 atoms decayed in one particular piece of cloth. That makes perfect sense, if you’re grasping at straws to prop up a particular piece of mythology.

  • Michael Heath

    colnago80 writes:

    That’s rather surprising considering that Carrier has been claiming that there no evidence as to the existence of a historical Yeshua of Nazareth for years, let alone a resurrection.

    A credible expert with integrity should laud and promote competing arguments that are worthy of consideration if one actually cares about objective truth. So it’s not all surprising that Richard Carrier would promote a narrative he doesn’t necessarily hold, as he noted in the blog post I that linked to above. As long as it’s a rational argument that utilizes the full set of scant facts we have to promote what might have happened.

    That’s the point that authoritarians, denialists, partisans, bigots, and overly strident political/religious ideologues so often miss as they zealously promote their own agendas. That some people authentically care about discovering objective truth; and that journey requires us to test our own assumptions, premises, and conclusions.

    Robert Price also recommends Kris Komarnitsky’s new edition; in spite of also concluding there was no historical Jesus. While I think Mr. Price is worth reading, I also find him too zealous to be credible on his own, i.e., I look to other experts to validate his conclusions.

  • caseloweraz

    There is a peer-reviewed paper on piezonuclear fission, written in 2011. Of course, it was written by Prof. Carpinteri and his associates.

    Then, in 2012, Italian Government Slams Brakes on ‘Piezonuclear’ Fission

    Italy’s research and education minister Francesco Profumo has heeded the call from more than 1000 Italian scientists not to fund research into a controversial and disputed form of nuclear fission. The scientists had signed an online petition urging Profumo to block research on “piezonuclear” reactions at the National Institute of Metrological Research (INRIM). The petitioners say they are concerned that the institute’s president, Alberto Carpinteri, was prioritizing research on the subject and that Profumo was about to place a second proponent of the research on the institute’s scientific council. But Profumo has told ScienceInsider that he changed his mind about the council nomination and that he has “no intention” of funding piezonuclear research without the backing of the scientific community.

  • ShowMetheData

    In Carrier’s review of Kris Komarnitsky’s Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box?, he does not agree with the claim but sees Komarnitsky’s work as well documented discussion with good examinations of contexts where a supposedly supernatural event could be derived from naturalistic events


  • raven

    There is a whole cult built around the Shroud of Turin. They even have a name, “Shroudies”.

    1. They continually make up lies about the Shroud. The proof that it is 2,000 years old is ever growing and completely imaginary.

    2. The RCC once let scientists examine the Shroud for some reason. They were surprised when it turned out to be a medieval handicraft. And they learned something about keeping scientists away from their religious claims.

    And of course the Italian article is nonsense. An 8.2 earthquake would have leveled the whole region.

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    Michael Heath, why don’t you take your complaints about Carrier’s support for Komarnitsky into Carrier’s blog post about the subject, instead of derailing this post which has nothing to do with Komarnitsky?

  • dingojack

    “Italy’s research and education minister Francesco Profumo …”

    I wonder if he is a distant relative of Jack Profumo?

    Sorry for the OT comment but I get curious about irrelevant things sometimes.


  • John Pieret

    This is part of a long tradition of speculating naturalistic causes of religious myth … wind draining the Sea of Reeds so the Israelites could escape Egypt; various comets, planetary conjunctions, etc. for the Star of Bethlehem, and so forth. The funny thing is that nobody seems to notice that natural explanations make miracles superfluous. If the shroud is just the result of neutrinos released by an earthquake, it follows that the image was of a common criminal, perhaps a murderer, and not any progeny of a god.

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    On second reading, perhaps you aren’t complaining about Carrier at all, MH. It’s really not clear to me. Perhaps you could clarify.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    What an idiotic theory. Besides, it distracts from the important things, like the Housecoat of Haysville, which was carbon dated as 1971, but Kansas researchers think a lightning storm nearby, in Manitoba, may have possibly might released space particles, fouling the test which really should have shown it to be much much older.

    Or it might just be a housecoat.

  • colnago80

    Re Dachshund @ #16

    Doubtful. John Profumo was an Englishman, the Francesco Profumo was an Italian.

  • colnago80

    Re #15

    I don’t know that MH’s discussion is actually OT, as the subject of the shroud relates to the alleged execution of one Yeshua of Nazareth.

  • Michael Heath

    sigurd jorsalfar to me:

    On second reading, perhaps you aren’t complaining about Carrier at all, MH. It’s really not clear to me. Perhaps you could clarify.

    Perhaps a third reading will have you accurately concluding nothing I wrote in either post was critical of Richard Carrier but instead laudatory. I’m comfortable that what I previously posted is clear enough already.

  • DaveL


    Yes, there’s nothing quite like a crank using junk science to bootstrap a hoax to support a myth.

  • tsig

    It’s not really a shroud it’s the tablecloth they used at the Last Supper. The blood is winestains, Jesus did a full frontal pass out on it, flopped once there’s your image.

  • aziraphale

    To make an image with as much detail as exists on the shroud, the neutrons would have to be from a point source. The shroud looks as if half of it was under the body and the other half on top of the body. So where was the point source located? If below, it could only create an image on the cloth above the body; if above, only on the cloth below. No single neutron event could create both.

  • Phillip IV

    This thing pass peer review? Really?

    Yeah, it did – thing is just, they published it in a periodical for applied mechanics. It’s the same trick that creationists occasionally use – publishing in a magazine that fits the technical aspects of your study, but not the area you’re really trying to make your argument stick in.

    In this case, I’m sure the reviewers took a closer look at the part laying out the earthquake>radiation thing but only a glance at the section dealing with history. And at first glance, that section might pass muster for someone who has not much of an idea of ancient history – they do cite a couple of sources (some fake, some derivative of the Bible quote that is their primary source), so a cursory check might convince a mechanical engineer that there really is sufficient evidence for an earthquake in 33 CE.

    And the trick worked, for once they managed to sneak by the peer-review hurdle in that way, they knew they wouldn’t have any problem finding enough media outlets to spread the news – “Shroud of Turin” is always an attention-getter.

  • marcus

    “We believe it is possible that neutron emissions by earthquakes could have induced the image formation on the Shroud’s linen fibers, through thermal neutron capture on nitrogen nuclei, and could also have caused a wrong radiocarbon dating…”

    Other scientists have previously suggested…” that these guys must be smoking some really good shit.

  • tbrandt

    It’s actually much worse than you are giving it credit for. Take a look at the peer reviewed paper here, specifically, at the decays in Equations (1) and (2). These require the decay of Iron 56, the most stable nucleus in existence. They are endothermic reactions, to the tune of 40–60 MeV (~1 MeV/nucleon). To put that into perspective, it is comparable to the energy released per nucleon in deuterium/tritium fusion (i.e. an H-bomb). Carpinteri proposes that earthquakes trigger endothermic reactions that absorb the energy released by 20 tons of TNT per gram of iron reacted. Besides this, he makes no proposal of how to concentrate 40 MeV into an iron nucleus. If you want to do that by heating it up, you’ll need to reach a temperature of about 10 billion Kelvin. These temperatures do not occur in earthquakes, and are indeed about 10,000 times lower than the temperature in the Sun’s core. The man is a classic crackpot. One other tidbit: the editor in chief at the journal in question is at Carpinteri’s institute.

  • tbrandt

    er, 10 billion Kelvin is 10,000 times higher than in the Sun’s core. Temperatures like this occur only in a few places, for example in the cores of massive stars while they are collapsing to form neutron stars.

  • anubisprime

    Nothing about earthquakes in the books in the bible as far as I am aware….certainly not a magnitude 8.2…that would have been noticed I am fairly sure!

    And those narratives were written nearly a century after the supposed execution.

    So they cannot claim it was breaking news which did not make the cut in the account because it was ongoing or slightly after they wrote it!

  • dingojack

    SLC – your ignorance, as usual, is showing*



    * strangely (pay attention this is a difficult concept to grasp) Jack Profumo’s ancestors were Italians. Sometimes, people born in one place, end up living in another place. Weird eh?

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    tbrandt “er, 10 billion Kelvin is 10,000 times higher than in the Sun’s core. Temperatures like this occur only in a few places, for example in the cores of massive stars while they are collapsing to form neutron stars.”

    To be fair, earthquakes hundreds of miles away from Jesus were hotter back then.

  • Sastra

    If I recall correctly, according to skeptical investigator Joe Nickell they found traces of paint in the image. It is not mysterious. It is painted.

    And according to skeptic Ray Hyman’s Categorical Imperative: “Do not try to explain something until you are sure there is something to be explained.”

  • jnorris


    Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 27:

    51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

    52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,

    53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

    This earthquake was before the burial. So the Shroud must have been made by 8.2 aftershocks. Pontius Pilatus never reported the earthquake, aftershocks, or the zombies to Rome. Josephus never bothered to record them either. Strange if you ask me.

  • dhall

    Joe Nickell, or someone else writing for Skeptical Inquirer, also mentioned that the late medieval hoaxer had left behind a letter or other document in which he admitted the deed. But, just as with the 1960s film from California purporting to show bigfoot, it hasn’t made any difference to the true believers that the man in the suit came forward and admitted the hoax, and described how it was pulled off. True believers will ignore or explain away any evidence that contradicts what they want to believe. They prefer to believe that the hoaxers are lying.

  • gAytheist

    As a retired physicist I probably should have something cogent to say about all this – but I don’t. I just want to thank everyone for providing me with incredible entertainment. This has to be one of the funniest series of comments I’ve seen in a long time.

  • colnago80

    Re dingojack @ #31

    Gee, by that argument, maybe I’m related to John Kerry as I have the same Christian name as his paternal grandfather. Of course, my ancestors came from the Ukraine and his came from Austria.

  • Lofty

    God was watching out for his son during his temporary stay on Earth. Bored, God was snorting a line of radioactive minerals to make more sparkly sky lights. Distracted, he sneezed as he glanced groundwards and left an interesting burn mark on the shroud. Hallelujah and all that.

    Disprove that, sciencies!

  • stace

    he blood is winestains, Jesus did a full frontal pass out on it, flopped once there’s your image

    The Jesus juice was strong that day my friends.

  • http://georgeworroll.wordpress.com gworroll

    Even if this is all correct- I can’t help but think this undercuts the whole Jesus as God thing. Some dude just got buried at the right time and place- bury enough people and you’ll find all sorts of weird stuff happening in the vicinity of some of the bodies.

    And even if this could support the Jesus story, there’s the whole provenance issue. Even if confirmed to date from the right period, supporters would still have to establish a connection to Jesus. More reliable evidence that Jesus existed at all would also kind of be helpful here.