Shroud of Turin – Forensic Witness

This post is part of a multi-part series investigating the evidence and arguments surrounding the Shroud of Turin. See the first post, Shoud of Turin, Could it Be Real?,  for an index.

The Shroud of Turin is the most studied relic in antiquity…if at this point we can have your permission to associate it with “antiquity.”  We now turn our attention to the level and sophistication of the scientific methodologies and the specific forensic areas of study. Some of the forensic domains that have been used to investigate the Shroud are: medical, botanical, chemical, hematology, DNA, mathematical, and microphotographic analysis.

The analytical methodologies used to study the Shroud are numerous: organic and inorganic materials, trace metals, imaging, and dating analysis. These investigations were executed using tools such as microscopy, 3-D decoding,  x-ray fluorescence, microphotography, x-ray low energy radiography, infrared and UV-Vis reflectance spectroscopy, x-ray diffraction, FTIR microspectroscopy, and some acid digestion tests for trace metals. At this point I’m not naming all the analytical tools, but the predominant ones to pose a thought: the Shroud of Turin has been scientifically analyzed from many perspectives.

STURP, the Shroud of Turin Research Project, was allowed a limited amount of time (120 hours) to study the Shroud and collect samples in 1978. Some testing was done in-situ, meaning at the source, and other samples were  collected for later testing and confirmation. STURP released a summary of their conclusions in 1981, after years of study and evaluation of the data.

The Shroud reads like a crime scene, literally…

Medical Evidence Fileimage

Can you image the audio notes from the coroner’s examination:
“Male victim, approximately 30 years of age. Height 71 inches and approximately 175 pounds. Preliminary findings indicate cause of death: postural asphyxia, severe blood loss from multiple wounds, and terminal cardio-respiratory failure.” Scientific studies of the Shroud reveal each piece of the puzzle.

In a recent discussion on this topic, a colleague stated “I thought the Shroud was a dead topic.” My response: “Not at all.” In fact, significant strides have been made since the 1980’s in evaluating the science of the Shroud.

Visual observations of the linen suggest severe lacerations and trauma throughout the body, bruising, a dislocated nose, a large cut on the left side, a puncture wound in the left wrist, and no apparent broken leg bones. The left leg was slightly elevated at the knee with the left foot placed on top of the right and both feet having been pierced with an object.



Botanical Evidence File

Though the body is now gone, the cloth shows signs that the victim was on his back. Pollen reportedly was found and identified to have come from flowers of a variety of plants growing only in the Jerusalem area that correlate to a time of death in the Spring. Other pollen may support a theoretical historical trail from the Shroud’s current location in Turin back to the crime scene.

Some suggest, there are what appears to be hundreds of floral patterns on the Shroud, with 28 flower species that still grow in Israel. One of them, identified as Zygophyllum (Dumosum), a kind of desert tumbleweed or shrub, actually grows only in Israel. This very unique evidence, if true, narrows the location of the crime scene significantly. The floral images around the head of the victim are faint and nearly non-identifiable on the linen. In my review, I can possibly see one.

Chemical Evidence File

Soil particles, similar to soil in Jerusalem, are present below the foot imprint on the linen and travertine limestone particles may be among them (yet to be confirmed). Travertine aragonite limestone particles were reportedly found on the linen and are indigenous to caves surrounding Jerusalem.

Except the pigments from the blood, no other color pigments or organic dyes were found, as would be expected for a painting. The color of the shroud fibers can’t be extracted by any known solvent, which would be typical for organic dyes, and if the image were scraped with a razor it would reportedly be wiped off the linen. This suggests the image only impacts 1 or 2 microfibers per thread, with each thread composed of approximately 200 microfibers. STURP concluded “No pigments, paints, dyes or stains have been found on the fibrils.”

Hematology Evidence File

imageThe victim was severely beaten. Blood transference marks are consistent with the Roman flagrum, an instrument discovered by modern archaeology, providing insight into first century Roman scourging. The angles and impact points represent at least two different instruments used by two individuals of different height. Many of the impacts are in groups of three, suggesting the instrument had three objects of wood, bone, or metal swung from the same instrument at the same angle. Hundreds of impact points available for sample analysis.

The micro samples of blood stains on the shroud have been found to be blood group AB, and the blood is that of a human. Kelly Kearse points to a review of work conducted by Baima Bollone, et al., stating that the blood stains are further characterized as MNS positive. The S antigen is exclusive to humans.

DNA Evidence File

The DNA found on the Shroud is reported to be badly fragmented, though some sequencing has been done. The problem with any item that has been handled by many people is that it may be contaminated with DNA by those who handled it. Kearse explains the concerns about what is currently known about the DNA, and concludes that further study is needed in this area.


3-D Encoding and Mathematical Evidence File

There is direct mathematical correlation between the image density on the cloth and the distance from the body or surface of the object. The closer the body was to the cloth, the darker or denser the image; the further away, the lighter. To make the point clear, the tip of the nose is the densest of all the image areas on the Shroud. As the cloth covered the front of the man, the tip of the nose had direct contact with the cloth.

Microphotographic Evidence File

Dental imagery in the photo image of the Shroud show the roots of the teeth. I first noticed this at a presentation given by Gary Habermas. For his presentation he had a life-size replica that was very impressive, a Barrie M. Schwortz image. Since that time I have only found one document supporting the observation of the roots of the teeth in any image.  Talking to Barrie Schwortz, he’s convinced what I am seeing is lines in the fabric and not roots of the teeth. The mystery becomes, why don’t we see them consistantly outside the mouth area.

As I consider the implications of missing items in the body image, I find it totally inconsistent with the idea of a forger or artist leaving them out on purpose or by accident. Here are some of these missing body parts: (a) the thumb of the left hand is missing in the frontal image,(b) portions of the feet are missing in both images (frontal and dorsal), and (c) the back of the knees are missing in the dorsal image.

In addition to the resources listed throughout this post, readers are encouraged to take a look at two additional papers that served as references for this post: The Shroud Center of Colorado’s critical summary and Thibault Heimburger’s detailed critical review.

One thing that stood out in the Shroud Center of Colorado’s critical review is found in their conclusion: “First, the conclusion that the Shroud was in Constantinople in 1204 is strongly supported, both historically and empirically. Such a conclusion means the carbon dating of the sample cut from the Shroud failed to date the Shroud correctly.” More on the carbon dating coming soon….stay tuned!

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