Turin Shroud Continued
Part 3. The Shroud and Carbon-dating
“Until 1988 a large majority of the historians, artists and scientists who had studied the famous Turin Shroud considered that it was genuinely the shroud of Jesus. Then came the carbon-dating tests of 1988, and the shattering declaration that the Shroud was a mediaeval forgery. The dating was accepted without question – all previous evidence was overruled. … should we not think again?” (‘The Turin Shroud is Genuine’, fly leaf)
In 1988 the Vatican gave permission for the Holy Shroud to be subjected to carbon-dating to try to determine by scientific means the true age of the Shroud. The public in general knows little about carbon-dating, how it works or how reliable it is, but when scientists announced that the Shroud was a fake, made (somehow) in the middle ages, this conclusion was accepted without question, simply because it was the opinion of ‘science’. The following information may give you pause for thought…

What is carbon-dating?
It is by no means a simple procedure. The conditions required for gaining an accurate reading are very complex, and if any of these conditions is not met, the results are likely to be suspect indeed. If you have patience to read a detailed account of what carbon-dating actually is, click here. (Hoare, p.96)

Carbon atoms in a piece of cloth, or any specimen, are of two kinds: stable and unstable. The stable ones are C12 and C13 type atoms. The unstable carbon atoms are type C14; these atoms slowly disappear over time, becoming nitrogen. Carbon-dating, essentially, tests the amount of atoms in a specimen which have been converted from C14 to nitrogen.
Hypothetically, what carbon-dating of the Shroud could tell us was the year in which the flax from which the linen of the shroud was manufactured ‘died’ – stopped exchanging carbon with air, and had the same proportion of stable and unstable carbon atoms as the atmosphere.

The AMS method
In 1988, when the Shroud was tested, there were two methods available for carbon-dating. The method used on the Shroud was called AMS – ‘accelerator mass spectrometry’. The method involved using only a very small sample (25g) of cloth.

Before carbon-dating begins, it is vital that certain procedures are carried out to ensure that no extra carbon has been accidentally absorbed by the material being tested, because,

“if some extra carbon has got into the specimen, the result is bound to be wrong”.(Hoare, p.97)
A process called ‘pre-treatment’ is performed, which includes all or most of the following steps:
  • The specimen is examined optically so that surface debris and dust is removed
  • It is vacuum cleaned
  • Ultrasonics are used to remove dust and pollen
  • An organic solvent is applied to get rid of any grease
  • It is dried and weighed
  • It has an acid wash, followed by an alkali wash, followed by a wash in distilled water
  • It is bleached to reduce its basic cellulose
  • It is dried and weighed, then
  • Sealed in a vacuum with copper oxide
  • Put in an oven at 950? C., where it is
  • burnt in the oxygen emitted by the copper oxide
After this, the carbon dioxide which has been emitted is
  • put into an oven with Zinc, with some iron powder to act as a catalyst and binder. (Zinc takes the oxygen from the carbon dioxide, and the carbon forms in the iron powder).
  • The mixture of pure carbon from the specimen, and the iron powder, is then put in the apparatus for measuring the carbon.
The pre-treatment conditions are crucially important. Consider the following observations made in guidelines for Carbon Dating, published by Dr. Bowman of the British Museum:

“Many materials used for preserving or conserving samples contain carbon that may be impossible to remove subsequently; do not use glues, biocides… etc. Many packing materials, such as paper, cardboard, cotton wool and string, contain carbon and are potential contaminants.”
(British Society for the Turin Shroud, Newsletter No.28, April/May 1991)

N.B. The Shroud was kept in a wooden box for most of its 2,000 year history. Moreover, in 1352 it was subjected to a ferocious FIRE in Chambery chapel, France, which singed and damaged it extensively (see Fire below)

Dr. Van Oosterwych-Gastuche, one of the experts involved in the carbon-dating of the Shroud, wrote:

“ a great many materials, including textiles such as linen, wool and cloth … provide very anomalous C14 dates. The high surface areas and porosity of these materials makes them very efficient absorbers of all sorts of contaminants resistant to the pre-treatment cleaning”.
He went on to conclude: “I believe it is almost futile to try to calculate the true age of a textile as badly adulterated as the Shroud”.
1. The nature of the flax used to make the Linen of the shroud:
‘as the flax grew, C14 had a preference for the central fibres rather than the proteins, waxes and fats coating the plant. This effect was increased during the spinning process, and could lead to an enrichment of C14 by as much as 40%”
2. The FIRE in Chambery chapel, 1352 which badly damaged the Shroud:
At very high temperature, ‘there was addition to the radioactive content of the linen, partly due to evaporation of remaining proteins and lipids, and partly due to isotopic exchange. …when the linen is extremely hot the atoms can easily escape and exchange with similar atoms in the surrounding air’.
3. Radioactive material from sand or rock
If the body lay on sand, or if during the Shroud’s 500 year concealment in the city walls of Edessa, ‘radioactive material in the rocks could have affected the Shroud. Considerably less than a 13 per cent increase in radioactive carbon during that time would have caused the results to be 1260-1390AD instead of 33AD.’
4. Handling without protective gloves
The Shroud would have picked up carbon in its fibres whenever it was handled, as it was during several expositions over the centuries
5. Smoky atmospheres, candles, candle wax and flaming torches:
All these were present during its several exposures from the middle-ages onwards: ‘microfungi would have been all over its surface’.
The textile expert involved in the carbon dating, John Tyrer, stated that although the surface of the cloth could have been cleaned with the techniques used for pre-treatment,
‘At fibre molecular level, the problem of contaminants presents specific difficulties… organic molecules containing carbon would become part of the flax fibre chemistry and would be impossible to remove by surface actants and ultrasonic cleaning treatments’.
Disrepute of Carbon-Dating
The AMS method has been quietly gaining disrepute in the scientific world in the years since it was used on the Shroud, as has carbon dating in general.

Scientists express doubts about carbon-dating:
Dr. Eugenia Nitowski, Archaeologist:

‘In any form of scientific discipline, it is the weight of evidence which must be considered conclusive. In archaeology, if there are ten lines of evidence – carbon dating being one of them – and it conflicts with the other nine, there is little hesitation to throw out the carbon date as inaccurate due to unforeseen contamination’ (British Society for the Turin Shroud, Newsletter No.21, Jan/Feb.1989).

Article on Shroud, from: http://www.geocities.com/~ymjcath/HolyFace.htm

And there's this latest news brief which I first saw on EWTN's site:

11-Jun-97 -- EWTN News Brief

TURIN, Italy (CWN) - An American scientist said on Tuesday that the Shroud of Turn is much older than has been recently stated and is not a painting or other manufactured work.

Professor Alan Adler, who was attending a news conference announcing new conservation measures for the shroud, said the cloth is older than the 14th century date most recently attached to it. The cloth has historically been named as the burial shroud of Jesus Christ and bears a mysterious image of a crucified man. "The marks on the shroud are of exuded blood, belonging to a man who was tortured and crucified," he added. "It cannot be from the 14th century, but is much older and far more consistent with what we know of the crucifixion of Christ."

Adler said the Shroud could be the same age as another shroud, in Oviedo, Spain, that has been carbon-dated to the 7th century. The accuracy of the carbon-dating tests have been disputed by many scientific experts.

Tuesday's news conference was called to discuss new conservation measures to preserve the shroud. The cloth has been kept furled on a wooden roller in a silver case, but scientists recommend that it be kept unrolled in a receptacle containing an inert gas to prevent further discolouring and deterioration. Until recently, the shroud was kept in a Turin cathedral that was devastated by fire on April 12. After it was rescued through the heroic efforts of firemen, the cloth was moved to a secret location.”


The following article appeared in the 'Oxford Star' of 11th April 1991. It relates to the very laboratory in Oxford where the Shroud was tested:

“boffins from Oxford University dropped a clanger when asked to date ancient rock-paintings by South African bushmen. Their carbon-dating tests estimated the paintings to be 1,200 years old, but they were dumb-founded when grandma Joan Ahrens said she painted them just 11 years ago!

The rock shock started when a schoolboy in South Africa came across the paintings, and his Art teacher called in Natal Museum. They in turn sent the rocks to Oxford University’s AMS unit – which found the Turin Shroud was a fake – and their results confirmed that the rocks were the first bushmen-painted rock.
Then 72 year old Mrs Ahrens saw the articles, and revealed she had painted them in art classes. They had been stolen by vandals and thrown into the bush.”

The Turin Shroud’, by Ian Wilson, Penguin Books Ltd., U.K., 1979
The Turin Shroud is Genuine’, by Rodney Hoare, MA (Natural Science), Trinity College, Cambridge, Souvenir Press Ltd., London, 1994
Carbon-dating, techniques:http://www.c14dating.com/agecalc.html
Carbon-dating, suspect: http://www.modomedia.com/quantum/carbondating.html