Well, That Settles It … I’m a Believer.

So here we go for another round with the Shroud of Turin.  The last, as I recall, was in 1988 when some fibers taken from one of the corners were radiocarbon dated and found to be dated to about 1260-1390 AD.  These results were dismissed – and rightly so – when it was discovered that the sample was taken from a part of the shroud that had been “contaminated” by fibers weaved into the cloth during the medieval era to repair fire damage.

This time around, we have to thank Professor Giulio Fanti of the University of Padua for the continuation of the saga.  Taking the same fibers used during the 1988 analysis, he used infrared light, potential drop, and Raman spectroscopy to confirm that the shroud originates from between 300BC and 400AD.

Shroud of Turn (photo from EPA via The Telegraph)

Back in 2011 he performed a comparative analysis of all of the documented hypotheses that have attempted to explain how the image could have formed on the shroud, ranging from physical contact combined with partial decomposition, vapor diffusion, and medieval proto-photography (with eyes on that scamp, daVinci).  Each hypothesis had its drawbacks in that they were not capable of explaining the full range of characteristics seen in the shroud.

The only explanation that did appear to satisfy all of the observed criteria?  Radiation from a coronal discharge.

The angels brought it into the tomb with them.

Fanti points out a couple of times in the paper that his conclusion only shows what best fits the data, and leaves the job of trying to explain how a body during antiquity would have been exposed to radiation sufficient to sear an image into its burial shroud.  I can’t say I blame him, since that’s a hell of a job given the circumstances.  One researcher – deLiso – might have hit upon something by suggesting that seismic activity creating a “piezoelectric effect on the quartziferous layers of rock” in the sepulcher might have been responsible.  Alternatively, ionization of the air caused by the presence of radon would have done it too.  Either way, Fanti suggests that neither hypothesis is exactly testable, so he’s sticking with his coronal discharge hypothesis.

So who the hell knows if he’s really on to something or not.  It’s not as if it’s testable outside controlled lab settings – or even in them – nor does it explain why the shroud itself wasn’t noticeably altered during the discharge effect … but I’ll give it to him that it’s certainly an interesting conclusion, and one that best fits the observations at this point in time.

But as compelling as the story may be, there are still a number of unanswered questions about its authenticity.  For example, studies done back in the 1980s support the claim that the reddish stains on the shroud are due to blood.  Others maintain that the same results show that it’s nothing more than ocher and vermilion pigments.  But even if it is blood, there’s nothing to say it belongs to the guy on the shroud.  Additionally, the shroud itself is verified as coming from the time of Jesus … but what about the image?  Is there a possibility that the entire image – blood and all – may have been put there at a later time to create a convincing relic?  Finally, passages from the bible like those in the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke suggest that it was actually a number of pieces of linen; a separate one covered his face and “clothes” or strips – plural – were used to cover his body.

In other words, this new discovery provides a good age range for the shroud, but no insight into either the identity or – more importantly – the divinity of the person depicted in the image.  I keep seeing commentary using phrases like “it’s a matter of faith” … which, to me, unfortunately just means “some people are going to believe it’s proof of god no matter what.”

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This entry was posted in Dr. Bob's House of Crap, Freedom from Religion, generic skepticism, Religion in the News, Science Marches On and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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