The Authentication of the Turin Shroud: An Issue in Archaeological Epistemology Part 6
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 Alan D. Whanger

Department of Psychiatry, Box 3196, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C. 27110, U.S.A. 2 xii 82

Meacham has written a comprehensive, reasonably balanced, fascinating, and informative article. I would commend him for his courage in stating his conclusions in forthright terms after building his evidence and argument. I have two minor comments and one major criticism. On the minor side is the statement that the Mandylion was discovered during a siege of Edessa, about 525. According to Wilson's (1979:136-40) documentation, the circumstance was a massive flood that ravaged much of Edessa in 525, and the Mandylion was found during the repair process. Another minor point has to do with the question of the body's being washed. According to Zugibe (1982), the body was probably partially washed lightly prior to enshroudment.

Of major importance (from my standpoint, anyway) is that the author has not seen the work my wife Mary and I did on the polarized image-overlay technique of comparing the Byzantine icons and coins with the Shroud image or the work on identifying the coins over the eyes. Considerable perplexity is expressed as to the "lost years" of the Shroud, "if genuine." Our work shows that the Shroud image was well known in the early part of the 6th century and, being presumed to be an authentic image of Christ, was scrupulously copied in many media. Our image-overlay technique allows minute and detailed comparison of various images. There is an encaustic icon of Christ in St. Catherine's monastery at Mt. Sinai (probably a gift of Justinian I [reign 527-65], who also built the monastery) which shows at least eight medical diseases on the image of Christ, all of which can be easily explained in terms of the artist's having accurately copied the original model (obviously the Shroud face) on the assumption that it was a life image and not a death mask. These two images have 45 points of congruence (i.e., identical or very similar features). The comparison of the Shroud image with a solidus of Justinian II, struck between A.D. 692 and 695, shows at least 65 points of congruence, indicating that this coin was indeed a numismatic icon almost certainly copied from the Edessan image, as Breckenridge (1959) speculated. The nearly photographic-copy quality of the coin image (see fig. 1, 1-3) would have certainly required that the die cutter be looking directly at the Shroud image as he worked. While the analogy may not be strictly correct, it should be noted that in a court of law 14 points of congruence are sufficient to determine the identity of fingerprints, tire tracks, etc. By examining many early artistic depictions, it can be seen that within a comparatively few years' time after A.D. 530 the Shroud image had become the prototype for most depictions of Christ.

Another icon at St. Catherine's monastery is very helpful in elucidating the probable history of the Shroud. This is the icon of Abgar V receiving the Mandylion from Thaddeus, which Weitzmann (1976:94-98) attributes to the middle of the 10th century. This icon was painted to commemorate the Receiving of the Mandylion in Constantinople by Constantine VII, whose face appears on Abgar's body. Assuming that the icon painter would have preserved the proportions of the face image on the Mandylion relative to the rest of the panel or frame, I extrapolated the actual measurements from various measurements of the face and found that the depicted Mandylion is about 46 inches wide and about 20 inches high, very near the measurements of the Shroud of Turin folded to eight thicknesses as detailed by Wilson (1979), whose work would tend to be strongly confirmed by our studies. These observations would have obvious relevance to Meacham's references to our work, and to the Shroud's first 1,000 years as being a "total blank. " He correctly but only partially cites our reports on examining the coins over the eyes on the Shroud. We used the same polarized image-overlay technique to evaluate the reports of Filas, as he says, and found in fact that there are identifiable coins over both eyes. The image of the coin over the right eye is the clearer of the two, and, in contrast to his statement, the "letter-like shapes" are clearly distinguishable from the vagaries of the weave. They virtually exactly match the lettering on a Pontius Pilate lepton owned by Filas, which has the misspelled inscription UCAI rather than the usual UKAI. Our technique enabled us to study the coin more completely and note 74 points of congruence between the Pilate lituus lepton and the image over the right eye of the Shroud (see fig. 1, 4-6). The coin nearly matches the type illustrated in Madden (1967 [1864]), as no. 14 on p. 149, except for the misspelling. We also, for the first time, dated the coin as struck in the 16th year of Tiberius, or A.D. 29. Interestingly, since people finally started looking at this seriously, at least six Pilate lepta have been discovered within the past year with the CAI misspelling, which was unknown until the Shroud gave evidence of the existence of such a coin. I have photographs of three of these, the two datable ones both struck in A.D. 29. The coin image over the left eye is less distinct but still clearly identifiable as the so-called Julia lepton of Pilate, struck only in the year A.D. 29. There are 73 points of congruence between this coin and the area over the left eye. The probability of placing two different coins minted in the same year on a corpse "several decades" after their issuance is rather remote.

Two of our major comparisons using the polarized image-overlay technique. The first two photographs on each line show the two images that are being compared; the third shows, in static way, the type of comparison that is possible as the superimposed images are viewed through a third rotating polarizing filter. The four small black rectangles on each image are the reference points that allow for quick and accurate alignment of the two images.

The author, not having seen our confirmatory evidence himself, is appropriately somewhat tentative in certain conclusions. Our work has been reported by Filas (1982:17-19) and is available on professionally prepared slides, filmstrips, and videotape, as well as having been internationally shown (albeit briefly) on television. The static photographs and the videotapes give a fair idea of the image comparisons, but the dynamic system of the polarized image-overlay technique provides a far superior and rather dramatic means of analysis. Over l,800 people that I know of have seen a demonstration of this technique, including at least 300 scientists of various sorts and at least 6 members of the original STURP investigating team. Not one of these has told me that he or she has not been able to see the remarkable similarities and identities between the icon and the Justinian II coin and the Shroud image, even though I have invited criticism and comments. While not scientifically valid, typical comments have included "stupendous," "incredible," "phenomenal," "amazing," and "one of the most important discoveries of the century." The negative comments have come, as far as I know, from those who have not yet seen the slides or, in some cases, have actually refused to look at them even when a personal demonstration was offered. Such a refusal to look at the results of an analytic technique strikes me as unscientific and unscholarly and perhaps illustrates the German proverb that says that "things which should not be, cannot be." I would even be brash enough to say that anyone who makes statements about the Shroud image and its history and comparisons without at least having seriously viewed our work is at best already out of date.

I consider this article to be one of major importance and commend CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY for undertaking its publication. Since the major weakness, as I see it, is derived substantially from the fact that the author has not seen our work firsthand, I am sending him my slides to illustrate the points that I have mentioned. Slide Set G, entitled "The Shroud Image on an Icon and Coin," skews the comparison with the St. Catherine's icon and the Justinian II coin but lists the congruences with a 6th-century mosaic as well as a 10th-century Byzantine coin. Instructions for the polarized image-overlay technique are detailed in the accompanying sheets. The relevant slides have been marked by a system of reference points devised by my wife to permit rather rapid and accurate alignment of the superimposed images. Slide Set I, entitled "Identification of the Coins Over the Eyes of the Man of the Shroud of Turin," deals with much finer and, in the case of the left eye, less distinct detail and is therefore less obvious to the unsophisticated observer. We do have our points of congruence plotted and stand by our contentions that the Shroud is self-dating by the presence of two identifiable coin images over the eye areas. Certainly others may disagree with our findings or interpretations, but I feel that anyone making a statement about the coins without having carefully examined our material may be leaving the arena of scholarship and entering that of speculation.



by William Meacham

Hong Kong. 1983

The skeptics are certainly out in full array among the commentators - out of all proportion, I might add, to either their real numbers or the force of their case. If only the latter were as strong as their rhetoric! It is surprising to find their arguments directed almost entirely to the discredited notion of medieval "clever artistry." Mueller and Cole allege that my treatment of the Shroud is "not a work of balanced scholarship" because it does not consider this hypothesis in a substantial manner. I chose not to convey the impression that "general and powerful arguments" have been advanced for clever artistry precisely because none have. I have informed the reader that there are skeptics (and arch-skeptics), that there are difficulties, major and minor unresolved questions, many divergences of opinion among Shroud researchers, and a number of options short of accepting full authenticity, but I have relegated the idea that a clever medieval artist could have created the Shroud to the level of a footnote, in the same way that reputable scholarship would dismiss questions of Shakespeare's authorship, Hitler's escape from Berlin, and outer-space contributions to ancient civilization. Akin in many ways to these notions, the skeptical case for medieval artistry is based in part on the denial of empirical data, is built on a postulated complex of exceptional circumstance, and is quite untenable.

When Delage's 1902 lecture on the Shroud's authenticity provoked a storm of controversy, he wrote (1902:683): "If our proofs have not been received by certain persons as they deserve to be, it is only because a religious question has been injected into a problem which in itself is purely scientific." Unfortunately, little has changed in the intervening 80 years, and Delage's remark certainly applies to the comments of Dent, Nickell, Schafersman, and above all Cole, who even claims that ordinary standards of evidence do not apply to the Shroud and that I have presented a "religious apologetic." One can only wonder if Cole has ever heard or read a "patently religious argument." I categorically reject the implication that a religious viewpoint can be discerned in the article or that any argument is constructed on a theological base. Cole and Mueller do attempt to press the supernatural into any argument for authenticity, in spite of the fact that crude approximations of the Shroud image have been produced by the use of a corpse and spices, oils, etc., as Cole himself points out. Injecting the religious/supernatural element into the issue only distracts from the scientific evaluation, which is not, as Dent maintains, the use of science to serve "the opposite camp," but rather the proper investigation of a material object. The skeptics have not, I submit, advanced their arguments or camouflaged their highly vulnerable position by this distraction.

The historical existence of Christ and an object possibly associated with him are not "intrinsically religious questions" as Cole mistakenly believes. Emotional issues abound in science, certainly in the pages of CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY, yet would Cole have exceptional standards applied to them for this reason? Further, to accept Cole's "sleeping-dog rule" would excise many legitimate areas of scientific interest. He violates his own rule in pronouncing the Book of John "non-historical"; it is generally regarded as a highly theological eyewitness account. Similar, Schafersman must be applying extraordinary standards indeed to reject all reputable scholarship and consider Christ by "all available evidence to be mythical," whereas only last year this same evidence made him "think it probable that Jesus was an authentic person" (1982a:45). Most of Schafersman's comments are equally in conflict with empirical data, yet he labels my conclusion on the Shroud as a "blatant example of human credulity."

Dent seems to be on his own peculiar crusade. Even without following Binford, Leone, et al., one does not lose sight of what he is up to - making the Shroud an ideotechnic artifact so as to dismiss it. The Shroud would be in very good company, however, as all the material of history, archaeology, and evolution could also be so described, following Croce. In Dent's highly ideological comment, he points out that ideology is a mask and genuinely appears to believe that, armed with his own particular one, he is able to "pierce this mask" and perceive that the crucifixion is "mythologically real but materialistically [sic] and empirically unreal." Regardless of what mask he adopts, I do not see how on earth Dent can know the latter. Perhaps he really intends to refer to the resurrection. If not, for Dent there is no history, only ideotechnic constructions. He would presumably use the same terms to describe the assassination of Gandhi or the reconstruction of Australopithecus.

For one major misunderstanding that has crept into some comments I admit responsibility by omission. In concluding that the case for authenticity is very strong, I had no intention to imply that further study is not necessary or desirable. The work done thus far does indicate the direction of future research projects, as I stated, and there is a sense in which studies of the Shroud will always be incomplete. Similarly, in pointing out the limitations of C14 dating I would not for a moment argue that it need not be done. To the contrary radiometric dating ranks as the highest priority at present.

Beyond misunderstanding lies invective, and the comments of Cole, Nickell, Schafersman, and Mueller are phrased in an emotive tone not conducive to reasoned discussion. They bristle with intemperate rhetoric: "gullibility," "credulous bias," "notoriously subjective," "sheer whimsy," "blatant example of human credulity," "conceit," and "so-called evidence," to mention but a few examples. Doubts about personal competence or expertise emanate from Schafersman (graduate student) and Nickell (English instructor) like stones from inside a glass house: Frei's work is "questionable," STURP members may be pseudo-scientists, Heller and Adler are "nonforensic scientists," Filas and Whanger "nonexperts," and Bucklin and Gambescia "religious devotees of the 'relic.' " Those with views supporting the skeptics are mirabile dictu described in lavish terms: the Turin Commission consisted of "forensic experts;" McCrone is "probably the best-known forensic microbiologist in the world" and "a distinguished expert"; Baden is not only "one of America's foremost medico-legal experts," but "one of the world's most distinguished pathologists." Naturally, the former group are subject to a pro-authenticity bias, make "subjective inferences," and find "artifacts of their own hopes," whereas the latter conduct "impressive analyses" and make discoveries and "positive identifications." I leave it to the reader to decide whether this is the type of rhetoric usually associated with a carefully reasoned argument, not to mention a "powerful case."

Turning to some of the disputed points of data, the latest summary of STURP findings (Dinegar 1982:7) does give credence to both the pollen and the chin band. PeIlicori's doubt on the pigtail has not to my knowledge been published. I did not intend to give the impression that STURP was monolithic in its thinking, and several divergences were noted; I did attempt to relate what appears to be a solid STURP consensus. The Turin Commission did not report that blood penetrated the cloth (Frache, Rizzatti, and Mari 1976:50-51; Fleming 1978:62). The three-dimensional effect indicates that the image has correct tonal gradations, i.e., contour information of a type not seen in medieval paintings, rubbings, or black prints. The Shroud image may have faded slightly since 1357, but it is incorrect to state as a fact that it has faded radically. My suggestion of a possible "Kirlian effect" was rather speculative, but the Volckringer phenomenon should have definite applicability, being essentially a cellulose dehydration process producing exact, negative images.

The Mandylion's semilegendary history (Wilson 1978:158, 322) puts its discovery at the time of a Persian siege of Edessa in 544. I find the Mandylion/Shroud equation extremely difficult, for the reasons Cameron (1980) cites, especially the absence of mention of its revelation as a full-length body image and the lack of discoloration of the exposed portion of the cloth. On the other hand, the case made by Whanger, Wilson, and Vignon (1938) before them for the Shroud image's having been known and copied in early Byzantine times is quite compelling. I would suggest, therefore, that the Mandylion was a very early copy of the Shroud face, perhaps as early as the 1st or 2d century if the Abgar legend contains a grain of truth, and that the concept of images miraculously imprinted on cloth by Christ's face derives from a residual folk memory of the Shroud and the Mandylion copy of it.

The presence of coins or flat objects on the eyes seems well established by the three-dimensional reconstructions of Jumper and Tamburelli. The letter-like shapes are discernible in the earlier Enrie photographs, and several numismatists see the possible imprint of a Pilate coin. This is certainly not a baseless claim or a Rorschach effect, but it may be the result of a peculiarity of the Enrie film and technique, not replicated by STURP. Whanger (personal communication, 1983) points out that there are discrepancies between the 1931 and 1978 photographs which are not explained by STURP) and which may be the result of minor damage to the image in the interval. I fully agree with Pellicori that, until new strategies are devised, the point is moot.

Several comments are directed toward my caution with regard to C14 dating. It is not an infallible technique, and, as any field archaeologist knows, contamination either in situ or after excavation is always a possibility to be taken seriously. Maloney is correct to point out that pretesting cleansing will remove most of the normal contaminants (humic acids and lignins), but he errs in assuming that the quoted margin of error reflects in any way the possibility of contamination. One can never be certain that material of more recent age has not been trapped in the structure of the cellulose, that hydrocarbons have not formed, that ion exchange has not taken place, etc. Stuckenrath (1965:280) notes that the result is often more recent than expected and cites the wide divergence-from 1750 to 800 B.C. - of a series of 16 contemporaneous wood and charcoal samples; Peacock (1979:212) and Codegone (1976:40) cite same-sample inconsistencies; Hamilton (1965:43) cites conflicts between the C14 results and known historical ages. Alcock, McCrone, and Schafersman may find my lack of absolute faith in the method "sheer whimsy," "invalid," or "absurd," but it is based on experience: more than 50 samples excavated and prepared and submitted for dating and liaison with major C14 laboratories at Oxford, Canberra, and Teledyne. I believe that most archaeologists and radiocarbon scientists would agree that to trust the method to Produce an "absolute date" for a single artifact is what is absurd. It may, however, be comforting to Alcock to believe that an ancient date can easily be accommodated by the skeptics' position while a recent date would settle the matter. The truth is that no serious question in archaeology can be settled by a single date, especially on an artifact subjected to so many contamination possibilities. I would reject the claim that there are dated objects "more exposed" than the Shroud. In any event, what archaeologist worth his salt would give any credence to a date on an excavated sample which had been handled by hundreds of workers, kept in CO2-rich and high-humidity atmospheres, remained missing for a long while, been boiled in oil (mentioned in a 16th-century text), washed, burnt and repaired, and touched to the sick and to fresh paintings, had wax dribbled onto it, etc.? Unless, of course, the result was to his liking after all! Backward contamination is so rare that it may be dismissed, and the eventual dating of the Shroud will at least provide a minimum age.

The evidence for blood is a point of empirical data on which the skeptics reveal the weakness of their position and methods. Nickell quotes the unpublished opinion of "forensic expert"; Fisher to the effect that the chemical tests were not specific for blood; McCrone claims that his work (published in his own magazine) shows no blood. But according to the work of Heller (Professor of Life Sciences at the New England Institute), Adler (Professor of Chemistry at Western Connecticut) and Bollone (Professor of Legal Medicine at Turin University) - all published in peer-reviewed scientific journals - "there is nothing else on earth which could give this battery of positive criteria other than blood" (Heller, personal communication, 1982). Claims that false positives could be obtained from a tempera paint are undemonstrated and incorrect. Nickell counterposes the Commission's "highly sophisticated tests" - really quite standard forensic tests, apart from neutron activation, which Nickell wrongly assumes to have a bearing on the identification of blood. In his use of their data, Nickell ignores the conclusions of the Commission experts that "generic and specific diagnoses of blood on material of a very ancient date . . . can have a real probative value only with a positive result" and that their negative finding "does not allow us to make an absolute judgement on the exclusion of haematic remains" (Frache, Rizzatti, and Mari 1976:51, 54, emphasis in the original, translation mine). In view of the positive microchemical evidence for blood and the positive identification of the blood as primate by both Bollone and Adler (personal communication, 1983), the presence of blood traces on the Shroud must be considered as proven. And, as Maloney points out, there is now strong evidence (Jumper et al. 1983) that the bloodstains were on the cloth prior to the body image. Finally ultraviolet fluorescence and microchemical identification of serum albumin in the clear areas within the blood flows provide conclusive evidence that the bloodstains on the Shroud derive from direct contact with a corpse and not from an artist's brush.

'The pollen is another case of empirical data subjected to unreasonable doubt. Frei's pollen evidence does indicate a Middle Eastern origin for the cloth, which is not too surprising, as several other linen "shrouds" were brought back from the Crusades as relics. Pellicori misses the significance of the pollen as a marker, percentages would be useful in determining the immediate environment represented by a deposit but not at all in proving that certain types are intrusive. The presence on the Shroud of a wide variety of Palestinian and Anatolian species is ipso facto evidence of an exposure to air in those regions, unless a similar presence can be documented in Holocene pollen deposits or on other medieval artifacts in France or Italy. It may be, as Mueller contends, that few STURP members give the pollen data any credence, but this does not detract in the least from the hard evidence Frei's work has revealed, especially in the identification of halophytes found almost exclusively around the Dead Sea. Riggi (1981), a member of STURP, has reported preliminary findings of Shroud pollen and minute animal forms "extremely similar in their aspects and dimensions" to those from Egyptian burial fabrics.

Cole and Mueller challenge my statement on the unanimity of medical opinion. Obviously, this was not intended to include every doctor or biologist who has seen a snapshot of the Shroud and formed an opinion. Baden's remarks are repeated in no fewer than four comments, but he is a lone sniper laying siege to a fortified city. Regardless of his prestige, his opinions appear off the cuff. He has not seen the Shroud, nor does he appear to be familiar with the vast medical literature or to have been in contact with other scholars; he has not published on the subject; he is said to be "something of an iconoclast" (Bucklin in Rhein 1980:50); his opinions were given on the basis of magazine photographs; he cites the fact that linen sheets in his morgue had never developed an imprint like the Shroud's, which was termed "too good to be true." This is not to say that Baden may not have something useful to contribute to Shroud studies, but the fact that skeptics quote him at this stage demonstrates their desperation in the medical arena. In the same vein (apologies!), Nickell's claim that the pathologist I cited have all been "religious devotees of the relic" is not merely incorrect, but preposterous, as is Schafersman's unverifiable notion that skeptical medical authorities have just not bothered to make their opinions known. The fact is that a number of investigators (Delage, Barbet, Modder, Cameron) approached the Shroud with an initial skepticism. It remains true that all informed and published medical opinion concurs in interpreting the Shroud image as the imprint of a crucified body. This evaluation comes from Protestants, Jews, and agnostics as well as Catholics, but even for the latter it is totally unjustified to pronounce them all religiously biased, with scientific judgement impaired. In sum, I stand by my statement that the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from this body of evidence is that cited from the respected archaeological scientist Stuart Fleming - that the Shroud image is neither medieval nor artistic in origin.

McCrone and others contend that I have ignored strong arguments for human artifice, but suggestions that the image might be a painting, rubbing, or print have been thoroughly disproved by the recent analyses. It is established that the visible body image does not reside in a pigment, ink, or other coloring agent and that it has distinctly different characteristics from the bloodstains. My dismissal of McCrone's claims is more than amply justified by the battery of Commission and STURP tests. Even Mueller, Nickell, and Schafersman now accept the STURP interpretation of the image as a cellulose degradation product, but McCrone still insists that it is a water-color painting with a layer of pigment. Not only are the iron oxide and other possible pigment particles present only in trace levels far below the visible range, but their identification, origin, and distribution pattern are disputed. Heller and Adler (1981:93) identify three types of iron compounds on the Shroud - cellulosic and heme-bound iron and Fe2O3, the latter concentrated in the water stain margins and possibly derived from either of the former, from airborne dust, or from contact with jewellers' rouge on glass. Further, Riggi (cited in Heller and Adler 1981:97) found no evidence under electron microprobe of the mineralogical contaminants (Mn, Co, Ni, Al) invariably associated with iron-earth pigments of medieval artists, nor did Heller and Adler find such impurities in microchemical testing. The few isolated examples of undisputed paint particles, e.g., cinnabar, are completely consistent with dust deposition. Indeed, among the millions of particles on the Shroud surface, it would be surprising not to find traces of pigment, as the Shroud has been copied at least 60 times.

Even if one ignored the very compelling evidence to the contrary and granted McCrone's interpretation of the iron particles and protein, all one could conclude would be that minute traces of a solution or ointment containing pure haematite are present in the body imprint. This is of course a far cry from proving the image to be a painting. As STURP responded to McCrone's first pronouncements, "microscopic observations do not exist in a vacuum" (quoted in Sox 1981:61). McCrone is somewhat like Mearns's little man who "wasn't there again today." He declined at least two invitations to discuss his findings in the multidisciplinary framework of STURP; he has declined invitations to present his work at scientific congresses. He did not follow the STURP "covenant," which he signed, to publish in peer-reviewed scientific literature. And, as he admits, he has not responded in print to the arguments of Heller and Adler, Pellicori, Riggi, and Schwalbe and Rogers on the physics and chemistry of the image. He has abandoned his earlier claims of a synthetic iron oxide (post-1800) in the image and of a pigment enhancement of the genuine image.

I should interject at this point that the established facts as reviewed above are more than sufficient to refute the medieval-clever-artistry hypothesis. A forger could have obtained a Middle Eastern cloth, could have used some primate blood (and serum), and could have depicted the body in flawless anatomical detail, and the pigment could have disappeared, leaving a faint dehydration image - but that all of these unprecedented circumstances should have coalesced in the production of a single relic is virtually impossible to imagine. And yet, there are much greater problems in the "viable hypothesis of image formation" trumpeted by Mueller and Nickell.

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