The Shroud of Turin 2.0

Screen shot from Shroud 2.0 for iPad

Three big news items about the Shroud of Turin for Holy Week: new dating, a live broadcast, and a new app:

1. New Confirmation of Shroud’s Antiquity

The flawed 1988 radiocarbon tests dating the shroud to the Middle Ages have been challenged for years. Giulio Fanti, professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at the University of Padua’s engineering department, recently studied fibers from the 1988 test, and claims his result push the dates back. Way back. Here’s what Vatican Insider says:

The research includes three new tests, two chemical ones and one mechanical one. The first two were carried out with an FT-IR system, so using infra-red light, and the other using Raman spectroscopy. The third was a multi-parametric mechanical test based on five different mechanical parameters linked to the voltage of the wire. The machine used to examine the Shroud’s fibres and test traction, allowed researchers to examine tiny fibres alongside about twenty samples of cloth dated between 3000 BC and 2000 AD.

The new tests carried out in the University of Padua labs were carried out by a number of university professors from various Italian universities and agree that the Shroud dates back to the period when Jesus Christ was crucified in Jerusalem. Final results show that the Shroud fibres examined produced the following dates, all of which are 95% certain and centuries away from the medieval dating obtained with Carbon-14 testing in 1988: the dates given to the Shroud after FT-IR testing, is 300 BC ±400, 200 BC ±500 after Raman testing and 400 AD ±400 after multi-parametric mechanical testing. The average of all three dates is 33 BC ±250 years. The book’s authors observed that the uncertainty of this date is less than the single uncertainties and the date is compatible with the historic date of Jesus’ death on the cross, which historians claim occurred in 30 AD.

2. Televised Showing of the Shroud

A conference on the shroud is taking place over the next two days. Part of this will entail a televised viewing of the shroud on Holy Saturday. (Eastern rites traditionally observe the time Christ spent in the tomb using an Epitaphios, which is a shroud-like cloth or icon depicting the burial of Christ.  I’m not quite sure what that means or what stations will carry it, but keep an eye on for more details.

Reportedly, the broadcast will be accompanied by a message from Pope Francis.

 3. The Shroud App

There’s a new app from Haltadefinizione, the people who did the detailed high definition photography on the shroud in 2008. The app is free for iPhone and iPad, with a $4 optional purchase for higher-def images.

The image is a composite of 1649 detailed photos, which, according to Haltadefinizione, makes it a “12 billion pixels image, held in a 72 Gigabytes file, corresponding to the content of 16 DVDs.” You don’t need that much space for that app: it serves up the images on the fly with a base installation size of 50MB.

I’ve been playing around with it a bit, and it includes a detailed image that you can zoom and scroll, as well as various fact sheets and points of interest on the shroud. You can view it in negative or positive photography, and change contrast and brightness to bring out different details. The app includes details on the cloth, forensic analysis, blood evidence, and chemical, botanical, radiocarbon, and mathematical data produced by the studies.

Is It Real?

Is the shroud the burial cloth of Jesus Christ? I’ve never found the debunkers particularly persuasive, but my faith neither rises nor falls on its authenticity. It’s a pretty incredible artifact any way you look at it.  I don’t claim any special expertise in any of the sciences, but as someone trained as a cinematographer (including a semester of optics), I can say that it certainly appears to be an image created by light, not paint. That alone makes it remarkable.

I saw a documentary once where a man “proved” he could reproduce the image using totally natural means. He presented his reproduction, painted on cloth, with pride and victory. He thought this was the final vanquishing of the God-botherers who believe the shroud to be authentic … and it looked nothing at all like the actual image.

What do I think? I think it’s the real deal.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Christopher Corrigan

    God works in mysterious ways. I don’t think human inquiry is ever going to explain the origin of this artifact for certain. Suffice it to say, there is enough uncertainty about its origin for those with faith to believe that it is the true shroud used in Jesus’ burial. The same can be said of the Veil of Manopello about which I would highly recommend this book:

  • Kyle

    I don’t understand this. I thought the main criticism of the 1988 radiocarbon test was that the sample tested was taken from a repaired portion of the shroud, not that the tests themselves were faulty. If these new examinations were done on the same samples, why are the results so different?

  • Kyle

    Also note that a book about the results of these new tests is being published BEFORE the work is verified by a scientific committee. That is not the way peer-reviewed (i.e. widely accepted) science is typically done. That makes questions the motivations of these scientists.

  • Darren

    #1. That is pretty interesting. As an engineer and someone who has used FT-IR methods for many years in FDA regulated industry, I would love to get a look at that data and their test methodologies. There appears to be some confusion over terminologies vis-à-vis Raman and FT-IR, and I would be very interested in the mechanical parameters and how they were validated against historical samples, but I am certain those questions can be cleared up. It should be fascinating!

    Any hopes they will publish in the literature or is it to be just in the popular press?

  • Ben h

    The really extraordinary thing about the Shroud is that although at first glance you’d think that it being the burial shroud of Jesus would be the least plausible scenario, but after looking at all the evidence it is actually the most plausible scenario. Any other possible scenario suggests technical capability beyond what we have now as well as specific archaeological knowledge of first century Palestine as well as access to pollen from plants in that region.

  • Ronan

    Without peer review this just confirms the atheist slur that we are credulous fools.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Given the vast amount of nonsense that passes peer review, you’ll excuse me if I don’t share the scientific community’s touching and childlike faith in the process, which they treat like some kind of secular sacrament rather than something overseen by fallible human beings. If the material is garbage, it will sort itself out soon enough.

  • Iris Celeste

    You are wrong. It is being published under scientific review elsewhere!
    “What’s new about this book are Fanti’s recent findings, which are also about to be published in a specialist magazine and assessed by a scientific committee.”
    Line found here in the story at the La Stampa Vatican Insider website.

  • Kyle

    No doubt much nonsense passes through peer review. Just because a result is peer reviewed certainly does not make it true. All I’m trying to say is if you want to make a scientific claim, you have to play by the rules. That is the best way to sort out the garbage.

  • MdeCastro

    Kyle says:
    “If these new examinations were done on the same samples, why are the results so different?”

    Strictly speaking, the “same samples” no longer exists. C14 Carbon dating is a destructive process. So, the original samples were destroyed in the process of dating the material. However, the samples used by Prof. Fanti may have originated from the same location of the sample provided by the Roman Catholic Church to the 1988 research project (which produced the controversial C-14 carbon dating tests.)

    But before I continue, the following is helpful to know about C14 Carbon dating:
    1) C14 Carbon dating is a statistical process. Therefore, the sample size and the number of samples taken will affect the results because one is actually reporting a “statistical average” of the rate of C14 decay across a “sample population” — in this case a fabric swatch of woven fibers plus contaminants.
    2) The “statistical average” reported can be attributable to the sample ONLY if the sample is homogenous. Contamination of the sample with foreign material will confound the reported “statistical” result.

    It is reported that Prof. Fanti’s test samples were given to him by Mr. Giovanni Riggi di Nunna. Mr. di Nunna was the Vatican representative who actually cut out of the shroud the fabric swatches given to the C-14 Carbon test research teams to use as samples. Apparently, Mr. di Nunna kept the superfluous fabric remnants from his cuttings for himself. Mr. di Nunna was a ‘microscopist’, who was enlisted by the American research team to become a member of the STURP scientific examination of the Shroud in 1978. At the end of STURP, Mr. di Nunna worked for the Vatican until he lost his patron, Cardinal Belletrero, and at the wake of a scandal where he allowed the “unofficial” usage of shroud material evidence by outsiders. It was from Mr. di Nunna’s private stash, that Prof. Fanti received his samples just before Mr. di Nunna died in 2008.

    So, Prof. Fanti conducted his tests on individual fibers rather than on a sample of woven fabric. This reported fact is important because we can at least assume he was working with a homogenous sample because I believe Prof. Fanti also was reporting on “statistical averages”. However, I don’t know for certain. While I am schooled in the statistical design of experiments, I actually know nothing about FT-IR, the Raman or the multi-parametric mechanical testing that Prof. Fanti used. The formal report of his scientific investigations has not been translated from the Italian as of this writing and I don’t read Italian.

    Of course, those of you who are familiar with the “rules of evidence” may also question if Mr. di Nunna broke the “chain” of evidence by providing Prof. Fanti with his samples. Prof. Fanti definitely needs his reported results to be verified independently by the Roman Catholic Church, who from what I can tell had nothing to do whatsoever with Prof. Fanti’s investigations into the shroud.

  • MdeCastro

    Prof. Fanti has published a formal scientific paper. Unfortunately, it is only available in Italian.

    Can you tell me how big a sample size does FT-IR and Raman need? It is reported that Prof. Fanti did his tests on fibers only because he did not have access to a swatch of woven fabric.

    I’m also wondering if FT-IR and Raman are destructive tests like the C-14 Carbon dating tests.

    And are the results of the tests reported as “statistical” averages?

    Any response will be greatly appreciated.

  • Darren

    Not an expert on the methods, but I do use them routinely (or rather, I look at data generated from them, they don’t let me touch the instruments).

    FT-IR is looking at absorbance of an IR laser by a sample. My confusion is that all our FT-IR’s are the same thing as Raman Spec’s, which really just refers to the data processing algorithm. Perhaps a translation error?

    Definitely a destructive test – the absorbance is through a gaseous sample, so the fibers would have needed to be dissolved and aerosolized or combusted, I suppose. It is a chemical test, and normally used for a chemically homogeneous, or at least well characterized sample. Not sure what chemicals they were looking for, and what their significant could have been to the dating. I would also have thought a mass-spec would have been better, but who knows.

    So far as the result reporting, FT-IR gives an absorbance at a wavelength, that is all. The absorbance is proportional to the concentration, and the differing absorbance’s at different wavelengths can be used to identify the compound in question, but you really have to know what you are looking for in the first place, and the possible contaminants that might interfere with the readings.

    So far as sample size, it just depends on the standard deviation of their data. How many replicate tests did they run? How many fibers?

    Too many questions at this point to even hazard the wildest of guesses as to what they actually did, what the data was, and what it meant.

  • Darren

    Thomas said;

    ” Given the vast amount of nonsense that passes peer review, you’ll excuse me if I don’t share the scientific community’s touching and childlike faith in the process, which they treat like some kind of secular sacrament rather than something overseen by fallible human beings. If the material is garbage, it will sort itself out soon enough.”

    Well, that is kind of the point of peer review. Humans are fallible, and their motivations are not always pure. Solution? Turn a pack of ravenous scientists loose on the data, the first one to prove the results are wrong gets a nice tasty grant.

    When the system fails is when it is not followed, or where it is not ruthless enough.

    And not Faith… happy to use any other system that comes along that provides better results…

  • Darren

    Yes, that is what the website said. But which specialist magazine? Whose scientific committee? Ken Hamm has both…

  • IamJustanAmerican

    Burial shroud of a medievel knight. All the physical evidence points to him. Why they still play a game with people I have no idea.