The Authentication of the Turin Shroud: An Issue in Archaeological Epistemology Part 5

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Last Updated By Bill's Bible Basics :
February 16, 2017

In addition to reading and studying all of the information which is available in this section of the Bill's Bible Basics website regarding the Shroud of Turin, and the Sudarium of Oviedo, please also consider reading my article entitled "Faith and the Shroud of Turin" in order to gain a full perspective regarding this issue.

By William Meacham - Archaeologist

CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY - Vol. 24 - N'' 3 - (June 1983)

Published by the University of Chicago Press

Copyright 1983 by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research


by Joe Nickell

568 N. Broadway, Apt. 16, Lexington, Ky. 40508, U.S.A. 5 xii 82

Meacham makes so many claims that it is obviously impossible to respond to all of them in the space allowed. Many have been refuted elsewhere (e.g., Mueller 1982, Schafersman 1982a, Sox 1981), and in general I question his emphasis and sources.

For example, he cites a priest's and a professor of geriatric psychiatry's supposed evidence of "coins" over the eyes. While conceding that this may be due to "vagaries of the image on the weave," he nevertheless finds "a small measure of credibility" in the claim. He states, "Filter photographs and enhancements done by STURP" also show similar shapes, "but somewhat askew. " His reference to Weaver (1980:753) as his source is puzzling, since Weaver does not give this information (and the page referenced is simply a photo of the Shroud face). Not only have critics observed "inscriptions" elsewhere on the cloth, but most Shroud scholars and STURP scientists have found the claim absurd, suggesting that the nonexperts are probably seeing what they want to see (Mueller 1982:24; Sox 1982:26-27).

Meacham quotes Coon as describing the man of the Shroud as Semitic in appearance and claims that Coon's description is "supported by Stewart"; the truth is that this Smithsonian expert merely conceded that the face "could be Semitic" but warned that "there's no way to be certain without a profile." He emphasized that one could not tell whether "he was from Palestine or Greece" and observed that the likeness is quite "close to the traditional representation of Christ" (quoted in Wilcox 1977:129-32). Given the 1,300-year gap in the history of the cloth, this similarity is highly suspicious. In fact, the Shroud incorporates a number of artistic motifs common to the place and time of the reported forger's confession.

With regard to the "blood," Meacham cites the tests by two nonforensic scientists, none of which were specific for blood. Forensic expert John Fischer finds their conclusions untenable. In fact, similar results can be obtained with a tempera paint. The new claim (reported in a pro-authenticity religious publication) that tests supposedly "indicated" human blood will obviously require similar scrutiny. In the meantime, it must be held in grave doubt in light of the Commission's forensic experts' impressive analyses. These included standard chemical tests as well as neutron activation analysis, thin-layer chromatography, microspectroscopic analysis, and many other highly sophisticated tests - all of which were negative, including those for species. Moreover, the highly respected McCrone laboratories positively identified artists' pigments as comprising the "blood" - notably red iron oxide and vermilion, plus traces of rose madder (McCrone 1980). Unlike the STURP scientists, McCrone is a distinguished expert in the identification of pigments. Authenticity advocates still need to show a similarly old (600-2,000 years) bloodstain which has remained red and to explain how dried blood (as on the arms) was transferred to cloth. A forger, of course, could have used some real blood.

Admitting that the lack of historical documentation and the reported artist's confession are "difficulties," Meacham asserts that "the evidence from the medical studies must be treated as empirical data of a higher order." But the pathologists he cites have all been religious devotees of the "relic," and two serve on the Executive Council of the Holy Shroud Guild (as do STURP's leaders). So it was that Medical World News (December 22, 1980) reported an independent pathologist's review. Chosen was Michael M. Baden, one of America's foremost medico-legal experts. Baden stated: "If I had to go into a courtroom, I could not say there was rigor, whether the man was alive or dead, or that this picture was a true reflection of injuries on the body." He added, "Human beings don't produce this kind of pattern." Baden doubts that the Shroud ever contained a corpse and that, even if it did, any qualified pathologist would reach the kind of conclusions being touted as expert medical opinion. For example, he finds the "blood" flows from the "scalp wounds" highly suspect. Blood from a scalp wound, he stated, "doesn't flow in rivulets; the blood mats on the hair."

While conceding that if the Shroud is an actual burial cloth its image was formed "by unknown mechanism," Meacham largely ignores this profound argument against its authenticity. Contact imprints from bodies are invariably grossly distorted and vapors and radiations (on which other hypotheses are based) penetrate the cloth, whereas the Shroud image is quite superficial. Thus Meacham should give more serious consideration to the artistic-rubbing hypothesis. While he implies otherwise, rubbings are known from ancient times and were common in Europe at the time the Shroud made its fist-known appearance.

Used with a bas-relief sculpture, the wet-mold, dry-pigment technique automatically produces monochromatic negative images with minimal distortion and visually proper tonal gradations. Such images are superficial, "directionless," highly resolved, fire-stable, and characterized by blank spaces surrounding the forms. There is no cementing of fibers. The technique works well with a powdered iron oxide pigment (as identified by McCrone and found only in image and "blood" areas). Indeed, one medieval variety of pigment can account for the cellulose degradation that apparently represents much of the Shroud's visible image (to the puzzlement of STURP).

It seems that no other image-forming mechanism has been demonstrated which will so closely replicate the Shroud image. Anxious - like Meacham - to dismiss an artistic solution, some writers argue against the rubbing hypothesis on the basis of a dubious "3-D test," one which the physicist Mueller (1982:22-23) observes is largely based on circular reasoning. Ill-founded objections to a viable hypothesis should not conceal the fact that authenticity advocates have no viable image-forming hypothesis and are reduced to the unscientific position of suggesting a miracle.

In summary, the historical, iconographic, pathological, physical, and chemical evidence does not allow what Meacham rashly asserts is "a firm archaeological judgement for authenticity." Rather, the evidence at present is to the contrary (see Nickell 1983). Ideally, further tests - including carbon-14 dating - will be performed, if so, they should obviously be conducted by independent, impartial, and qualified experts.


by Adam J. Otterbein

Holy Shroud Guild, P.O. Box 336, Ephrata, Pa. 17522, U.S.A. 5 xi 82

The author has made a balanced and well-rounded presentation of the evidence from all sciences which should be considered in evaluating the Shroud of Turin. Recent tests and investigations have placed the emphasis on chemistry and physics. It is important to note that in spite of intensive study with sophisticated equipment no evidence of fraud or contradiction of 20th-century science has been proven. While this type of evidence is in a sense negative, its accumulated mass and variety are truly impressive.

Meacham makes an excellent point in saying that, although chemistry and physics alone will never be able to prove that the Turin cloth is the burial cloth of Christ, a broad archaeological assessment which includes all relevant data can lead not to a "leap of faith," but to a logical conclusion based on the total evidence. Not all archaeological conclusions can be proven by a microscope or reproduced in a laboratory.

He correctly divides the question of authenticity into two sections: (1) Is the Shroud a genuine burial cloth? and (2) Is the Shroud the burial cloth of Christ? Although science is still unable to explain the chemistry of the image formation process, recent investigation has reinforced the arguments that the Shroud did enclose a human corpse. In previous centuries those who claimed fraud never denied that the image was intended to represent Christ. Today science denies fraud and says that the image could be Christ. In treating the Shroud's relation to the biblical record, Meacham mentions some objections which suggest an apparent conflict between the Shroud and the Gospels. His position could be strengthened by reference to two articles by Wuenschel (1945, 1946), who has shown that the original Greek text admit of interpretations compatible with the Shroud and Jewish burial customs.


by S. F. Pellicori

Santa Barbara Research Center, 75 Coromar Drive, Goleta, Calif. 93117, U.S.A. 11 xii 82

Many scholars have addressed the Shroud of Turin problem, but Meacham does a better job than most. While he appeals to noble motives in his introductory thesis of applying stringent, but normal, criteria for examining the question of authenticity, he unfortunately concludes with no more convincing resolution of the problem than other scholars have.

The foundation for Meacham's conclusion rests heavily on some pieces of "evidence" which have not been adequately substantiated. Much weight is given to pollen studies; however, Frei does not provide data which would permit the statistical significance of his findings to be assessed. For example, from the sample as a whole, what is the true percentage of positive identifications? What is the predicted probability of occurrence? etc.

Much heat and emotion have been generated over the "findings" of inscriptions, coins, etc., by some people. The methodologies of these people are in themselves suspect, a problem often encountered when nonscientists attempt to apply scientific techniques. Regardless of that observation, examination of high-quality STURP photos failed to reveal unambiguous letter forms. The technique of preexposing a pattern to the retina (Whanger) assists the eye in seeing this Pattern in a subsequent field of dots which are unrelated (except for a preferred linear trend due to the weave structure). STURP scientists issued a statement to the effect that letters could not be identified from examination of the photos. This was more than one year ago. Until objective (and reproducible) methodologies are devised and applied to the problem, the coin-letter data point is insubstantial.

There are a few errors in Meacham's record. The Turin Commission did report that "blood" penetrated the weave. The detail existent in the scourge marks was revealed through ultraviolet fluorescent photography (by Miller and Pellicori, not Gilbert and Gilbert). The "pigtail" is most likely an artifact resulting from nonuniform image-resulting chemistry as the weave direction changes. This phenomenon also occurred in the strips that appear to be the separation between face and hair - an argument for caution in the selection of "data."

The image chemistry is known (as Meacham reviews it), but the mechanism of transfer of the body image to the cloth is not yet explained. It is important to make this distinction in discussing and demystifying the image formation process. Suggestions that Kirlian or Volckringer-like effects might somehow be applicable to the study of the image formation are based on a lack of understanding of those effects and of the known image chemistry. As such, they contribute nothing to the science.

In his closing argument, Meacham appeals to the "scientific character of historical knowledge," something, I assume, which he has invented. Contrary to his arguments, there really are no verifiable facts in the Shroud's seriously incomplete historical record, nor is there irrefutable evidence that warrants authentication as an obvious conclusion. The image resulted from naturally occurring cellulose chemical reactions and was not painted. However, the book is still open; Stage 1 is as much as we can support. The so-called evidence in favor of authenticity is, and always will remain, circumstantial.


by Steven Schafersman

Department of Geology, Rice University, Houston, Tex. 77251, U.S.A. 13 xii 82

Meacham's paper claims that the Shroud of Turin has been authenticated as a genuine burial shroud that once contained the body of the crucified Jesus Christ. Althrough such a blatant example of human credulity rarely finds its way into the professional scholarly literature, it is useful that Meacham is permitted to present his case, especially since other popular scientific and scholarly journals have allowed the same. All the empirical and logical evidence to date demonstrates that the Shroud is the product of a clever medieval artist, a forged relic with no other purpose than to awe and deceive an ignorant and credulous stream of pilgrims willing to pay to view it. The major difference between the Shroud of Turin and other medieval relics is that it is a far more cunning and convincing artifact than the others. Another difference is that the other relics are not today believed to be genuine by intelligent and educated adults.

Meacham writes that the "image was found to be anatomically flawless down to minor details" and that the body has "no observable defects." Why does he fail to mention the fact that the right forearm and fingers of the image are unnaturally elongated? Indeed, the whole body has an elongated aspect highly characteristic of Gothic art. Meacham presents all the evidence that the image was formed by contact with a corpse (rigor mortis, wounds, blood flows), even stating that all medical authorities agree with this conclusion. The evidence is spurious, however, and the conclusion is nonsense, since for the most part only the believers have bothered to make their opinions known on this notorious subject. Forensic pathologists have explicitly disagreed with the conclusion of legitimacy (Rhein 1980), citing such evidence as the lack of realism of the "blood" flows, which do not coagulate, even on the hair, but form perfect rivulets and pools everywhere. The existence of blood itself is another issue. Contrary to Meacham's claim, the presence of blood cannot be "considered as firmly established." Not a single one of the chemical tests of Heller and Adler (1981) confirms the presence of blood; their tests are marred by false positives caused by the protein binder of the applied pigment (Nickell 1983). Meacham's assertion that a 14th-century C14 date would "fail to settle the matter" of the age of the Shroud because of "exchange and contamination over the centuries" is absurd; other artifacts susceptible to C14 dating much older and more exposed than the Shroud have been dated with great reliability. Samples of the linen can be used now with no equivocation. The absence of a radiometric date today is due entirely to foot-dragging by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Max Frei's pollen evidence is questionable (Schafersman 1982c), so pollen samples taken from the Shroud do not "reveal that it has been in Turkey and Palestine." Meacham's claim that the antiquity of the Shroud can "be established from archaeological data now available" is interesting, but he rails to provide this important information in his paper. Instead, he offers us speculation and hearsay about a fanciful history of the Shroud before its first documented appearance in 14th-century France.

Meacham's conclusions that the notion that the Shroud is an artifact has "been disproved so thoroughly and absolutely that it should be permanently buried" and that it "should now be considered well-established that the Shroud is indeed an archaeological document of crucifixion" are entirely unjustified. The evidence he presents to support these erroneous conclusions is variously inadequate, incorrect, irrelevant, and unconvincing. It is the same evidence Shroud enthusiasts have been popularizing for years in their misguided attempt to promote the authenticity of the Turin Shroud. Clearly a much longer reply is necessary to detail all of Meacham's errors and misrepresentations; I refer readers to Schafersman (1982a, b), Mueller (1982), and Nickell (1983) for further details. I do want to state that Meacham's flat dismissal of the results of McCrone (1980, 1981) has no justification whatsoever. McCrone demonstrated convincingly that iron oxide and mercuric sulfide artists' pigments are found on the image and "blood" areas but not on the clear (nonimage) areas of the Shroud. The presence of the pigment documents that pigment was applied somehow (the method, painting or rubbing, is still debated), and the distribution of the pigment refutes the hypothesis of contamination. Furthermore, McCrone discovered that the pigment in the "blood" was in a protein tempera binder. The image on the Shroud today is due primarily to the dehydrated cellulose of the linen (the alteration or recrystallization of the cellulose was effected by some component, still undetermined, of the pigment or binder) and hardly at all to the iron oxide pigment, which explains STURP's spectroscopic results. The original Shroud image was darker and clearer to the naked eye, since the Shroud was the subject of paintings in earlier centuries, when artists did not have the benefit of filtered photographs. The conspicuous image was mostly destroyed by one or more washings (Sox 1981) which undoubtedly removed most of the original particulate iron oxide pigment.

I have no quarrel with the notion that the image on the Shroud is supposed to represent Jesus Christ. And as a religious relic, why shouldn't it? From the moment of the Shroud's first appearance to the present, no one has suggested otherwise, except rhetorically as a prelude to documenting the evidence for the true identity of the man on the Shroud. Meacham's painstaking rendition of this ritual is therefore characteristic and serves only to reveal his dogged belief in the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin and of Jesus Christ, a personage best considered by available evidence to be mythical. I agree with Meacham, however, in his rejection of the commonly heard claim that the Shroud's identification with Jesus Christ is outside the bounds of scientific or scholarly investigation and requires a leap of faith. Such things as the existence of Jesus, the true origin of the Shroud of Turin, and any connection between the two are very definitely within the limits of such investigation. I submit, however, that all investigations to date demonstrate that the Turin Shroud is an artifact connected with the mythical crucified and resurrected Christ only as a religious relic, and certainly not in any material sense.


by Giovanni Tamburelli

Centro Studi e Laboratori Telecomunicazioni, Via Guglielmo Reiss Romoli, 274, 10148 Torino, Italy. 13 xii 82

This paper is an interesting and all but exhaustive analysis of the problems concerning the authentication of the Turin Shroud. Only the results obtained by computer (see Tamburelli 1981, cited by Meacham, and also Tamburelli 1979) have not sufficiently been taken into account. I quote from my recent article on the subject, based on computer image processing done at the Centro Studi e Laboratori Telecomunicazioni (Tamburelli 1982:3-11, reprinted By permission):

In fact, almost the whole Passion of the Man of the Shroud according to the Gospel could be read in the data supplied by the computer. Obviously, this is only a probable "reading," because, after 2,000 years, very clear details can be interpreted in terms of hypotheses or, at most, probabilities.

Nevertheless, it would be interesting to list the new data obtained with the computer, making a distinction between data previously undiscovered or doubtful on the 2-dimensional images. Undiscovered data include (numbers refer to the details on the illustrations of the face [fig. 1] and body [fig. 2] images):

* the blood on the whole face. This is the logical consequence of a third dimension, corresponding to a single transformation law of all points of the face, even if without streams and clots of blood;

* streams and clots of blood, most of which were previously undiscovered, flowing down or towards the fore part of the face and the hair;

* the clot of blood cut on the left cheek near the left nostril (1);

* the mark which begins on the right side of the hair is slightly cut on the right cheek and on the nose and stops on the above-mentioned clots (2);

* the swelling of the right zygoma (3);

* the cuts on the left zygoma (4);

* the wrinkled clot on the left eyelid (5);

* the two streams of blood flowing down from the nose (6);

* the drop of blood under the upper lip (7);

* the clearly stereoscopic drop of blood on the right side of the upper lip (8);

* a sharp-pointed drop of blood on the right nostril (9);

* the clot of blood on the right side of the upper lip (10);

* the clot of blood on the left side of the upper lip (11);

* the clot of blood on the lower lip under the drop of blood flowing from the central part of the upper lip (12);

* the flowing aspect of the two streams of blood on the left side of the lower lip (13);

* the two holes at the sides of the nose (14);

* the cut on the nose near the two holes (15);

* the excoriation of the tip of the nose (16);

* the slight deviation of the tip of the nose (17);

* the drops of blood on the right side of the beard (18);

* the possible relief of the left-hand thumb on the 3-D image of the body (21);

Of the second data we can list:

* the cut on the right cheek deriving from a cudgel blow (19);

* the circular mark on the right eyelid probably left by a coin (20).

The correspondence between these data and the Gospels was detailed in my article as follows:

* The Man of the Shroud sweated blood, as supported by the presence of blood in all the points of the face.

* Therefore, he received heavy blows such as the numerous scourgings to be seen on the body image, the cudgel blow to be seen on the right cheek (19) and on the nose (15), the blow or blows on the clearly swollen right zygoma (13). As a consequence, he suffered the breakage of the nasal septum which is seen to be deviated and pierced by two lateral holes (14); the nose lost blood (6) which dropped from the upper lip (7), forming a clot on the lower lip (12).

* The Man of the Shroud began the way to Golgotha with the cross on the right shoulder, as shown by the imprint on the linen wrap. At a certain moment, the forehead began to bleed with a stream flowing on the left side of the face.

This stream formed a clot on the left eyelid (5), a clot near the left nostril (1) and the clot on the left side of the upper lip (11). This last clot (11) enlarged and took on a sharp-pointed appearance and acted as a watershed; in fact it divided the stream of blood into two rivulets which flowed on the left side of the lower lip (13). As this stream did not soak the beard vertically and as the clot near the left nostril was clearly cut while the victim was on the cross (as explained later) and hence was not fully clotted, the stream did not appear long before crucifixion. The Man of the Shroud fell, striking the left cheek on the ground, where the cheek was cut by the gravel (4); furthermore, the crown of thorns cut the skin, giving rise at that moment, i.e., not long before crucifixion, to the stream of blood mentioned above and to other streams which soaked the hair.

As shown by the nail marks on both wrists and feet, the Man of the Shroud was crucified. After a certain time he bent his head towards the right side. This brought about the deviation of the stream on the right side of the face causing it to flow along the right side of the nose to the right nostril (9) from whence blood dripped on the right side of the lip (10) and then onto the beard (8).

The clot of blood on the left eyelid was wrinkled (5) by the movement of the eyelid. When the Man of the Shroud bent his head the stream of blood was diverged and thus did not cover the wrinkles; this clot was quite large and stuck the eyelid of the left eye together.

The position of the drop on the right side of the lip (8) shows the inclination of the face before death. The other streams of blood also flowed towards the right side, as clearly shown in fig. 1.

A person with a sponge soaked in vinegar and put on the tip of a branch of hyssop refreshed the Man of the Shroud: in fact, we can note that the clot on the left side of the cheek (1) is cut.

The upper part of the cut is straight and may correspond to the flat part of the tip of the hyssop branch, due to the cut with a sickle, while the lower part is round and may correspond to the cylindrical part of the tip.

Furthermore, the mark beginning from the right side of the hair (2), is slightly cut on the right cheek and on the nose and stops on the clot, showing that at the beginning the tip of the hyssop branch was placed an the right side of the hair and then dragged across so that the sponge reached the mouth of the Man of the Shroud and caused the cut seen on the clot of blood.

The last drop, dripped from the nostril and is greatly diverged towards the right side (9). In fact, when He died the muscles of the neck were fully distended and the head bent down more.

The drop has a pointed form, because the gradual decrease in blood flows caused a decrease in its section, and its weight was not sufficient to make it fall (this is a proof that the blood ceased flowing while he was on the cross and hence that the Man died on the cross.)

To ensure that the Man of the Shroud was dead, a soldier stabbed him in the right chest with a lance, as shown in fig. 2 (22), and water and blood flowed out.

The death on the cross is also confirmed by the fact that all streams of blood are in the fore part of the face and none are directed towards the back, where they would have arrived had the Man of the Shroud continued to lose blood after the deposition from the cross. To keep the right eyelid shut, a coin was placed on it, as is clearly shown by the circular flat area in fig. 1 (20). The coin must then have been removed as the mark is impressed in the linen wrap.

The striking similarities of these facts with Gospel are a clear contribution in favor of the Shroud's authenticity.

Hence, the probability that the Man of the Shroud was Jesus Christ is greatly increased by the results obtained with the aid of the computer.

The computer showed us also what the face of Jesus Christ probably looked like before the Passion or after Resurrection, through an electronic cleaning of the blood and wounds which provides the almost natural images of the face (fig. 3).

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