Oct 06 2009

Shroud of Turin Reproduced

SCIENCE-US-ITALY-SHROUDThe fact that the Shroud of Turin – a linen cloth revered as a relic by the Catholic church that some faithful believe is the actual burial shroud of Christ – is a medieval forgery is old news. But public controversies tend to live long past the scientific controversies on which they are based (creationism, vaccines and autism, HIV denial, etc).

Italian scientist Luigi Garlaschelli claims to have done what shroud proponents claim was impossible.  “We have shown that is possible to reproduce something which has the same characteristics as the Shroud,” he is quoted as saying.

Garlaschelli laid his linen across a volunteer (whose face was covered with a mask) then essentially did a rubbing of their face, and then did some aging on the cloth, adding some blood stains and burn marks. The result is a good copy of the original shroud.

Over the years proponents claimed there was no way an artist could have created the shroud and that its characteristics result from a sudden burst of energy – a speculative hypothesis without confirming evidence. It was also an argument from ignorance – “we don’t know exactly how the shroud was made, therefore it was a miracle.”

The definitive skeptical treatment of the Shroud of Turin was done by Joe Nickell, who wrote Inquest on the Shroud of Turin. He has also reproduced shroud-like images using a rubbing technique.

The science of the shroud is a classic example of the difference between objective science and ideological pseudoscience. Scientists and historians who have examined the Shroud have discovered the following things:

The shroud first surfaced in the middle ages, in the 14 century, during a time when many fake relics were surfacing (a veritable cottage industry of fake relics) often used for fund raising. Investigations at the time found the shroud to be a fake. Bishop D’Arcis investigated the shroud and concluded: “Eventually, after diligent inquiry and examination, he discovered how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed.”

Chemist Walter McCrone found not human tissue or blood on the shroud, but red ochre and vermilion paint, consistent with what would have been available a the time.

The depiction of Christ is consistent with the artistic traditions of the time.

The “rivulets of blood” apparently falling down Christ’s hair is implausible – blood would have soaked in, not run in rivulets.

Radiocarbon dating of the shroud by three independent labs resulted in dates from 1260-1390.

What we have, then, is multiple independent lines of evidence all pointing to a 14th century forgery. Specifically, the carbon dating points to the same period of time as when the shroud first appears, a period of time rife with fake shrouds and other relics, and consistent with the materials and artistic traditions evident in the shroud. This is a remarkable consilience of evidence.

However, evidence will not end a public controversy where there are strongly held emotional beliefs. So-called “shroud scientists” have tried to dispute this evidence. Working backward from their desired result (that the shroud is the genuine burial shroud of Christ) they have tried to dispute every claim in a series of special pleading. For example, they claim that the carbon dating is inaccurate because of contamination. Contamination may alter carbon dating, but the shroud would have to be dripping with it in order for the date to be as far off as they claim it was. And it would have been a terrible coincidence if the contamination put off the date the exact amount to align with the date of the confessed forgery.

Garlaschelli’s efforts are interesting, if they hold up, and his claims are highly plausible and consistent with the efforts of others. He recognizes, however, that it won’t end the controversy.

“If they don’t want to believe carbon dating done by some of the world’s best laboratories they certainly won’t believe me,” he said.

11 responses so far

11 Responses to “Shroud of Turin Reproduced”

  1. doubtingfooon 06 Oct 2009 at 10:28 am

    I thought if you laid a cloth over a face then traced the outline you would end up with a very wide distorted face when you lay the cloth flat.

  2. doubtingfooon 06 Oct 2009 at 10:31 am

    Here is an example of what I mean:

  3. MarshallDogon 06 Oct 2009 at 12:22 pm

    The shroud of turin always fittingly reminds me of the cover from John Entwistle’s album “Smash Your Head Against The Wall”.

  4. Steven Novellaon 06 Oct 2009 at 2:00 pm

    It looks like the image was wrapped around the face and head, instead of over the top and down. There would still be distortion, but not as bad, and the artist probably used some technique to minimize it.

  5. Karl Withakayon 06 Oct 2009 at 3:33 pm

    I posted a link this excellent post in a post discussion thread over at the JREF regarding “believers” where post author Jeff Wagg said:

    “My conclusion is that it might be best for skeptics to embrace believers as fellow seekers of the truth, and rather than castigate them for poor science or premature credulity. We should exchange ideas on how best to explain phenomena, whatever it may be. If any of these things are real, we all want to know about it. And of course I lean to the side of incontrovertible evidence, I’m just suggesting that a softer approach might be more productive.”

    …which I took some issue with.


  6. HHCon 06 Oct 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Masks have traditionally be a part of Italian culture, festivals and art. This medieval mask is beautifully symmetric. Note the lack of a pained expression of the deceased, masked ” face”. The artist created a blissful expression for his symmetric conception. Death is equated with bliss/nirvana. Why the shroud fascinates us is simply put as answering the question of what does god look like? The Italian Catholic Church apparently has an exact rendition of god down to the last racial detail. Does anyone dare argue with the Church?

  7. HHCon 06 Oct 2009 at 7:07 pm

    That should read masks have traditionally been a part of Italian culture…

  8. stargazer9915on 07 Oct 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Catholics have been sticking their fingers in their ears and doing the la-la-la dance for centuries. No amount of proof or incontroverible evidence will change their minds notwithstanding Jesus coming down and saying this is a fake. Some people just CAN’T accept the TRUTH.

  9. mimon 07 Oct 2009 at 3:50 pm

    A well done BBC radio documentary on yet another catholic relic that Luigi Garlaschelli reproduced:

    Dried up blood of Naples’ patron Saint Gennaro turns to liquid to reassure residents of his protection. Italian catholics, a volcano and the mafia make this an even better story than the one about the Shroud of Turin.


  10. HHCon 08 Oct 2009 at 12:32 am

    Thanks for the link, mim. An Italian version of the tune “When the Bloody Saints come marching in!”

  11. dayofwrathon 19 Jan 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Faith is a grace.Read the book the coin of the temple by Souheil Bayoud,there you will know the person of the shroud and definitely Mr Luigi Garlaschelli with all the scientists of the world can not reproduce what that real story is relating.

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