January 29, 2005

The Turin Shroud Reveals More Secrets

For centuries, the Shroud of Turin has mesmerised the faithful with its mysterious faint image of a bearded man, purported by some to be that of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church has long promoted the belief that this was the shroud in which the body of Christ was wrapped after the crucifixion.

With the advancement of scientific techniques, during the last century, there has been much research done on the famous cloth. The image on the shroud has been enhanced using computers, which clearly demonstrate its unique three dimensionality.

In many ways, it is like a photographic negative. This has prompted many to believe that the shroud may in fact be a Medieval attempt at photography; perhaps, even the work of Leonardo Da Vinci, who had done research into light imaging.

In 1988, the Vatican permitted the removal of a small piece of the shroud for Carbon Dating. This remarkable research tool in the archaeological arsenal, allows for highly accurate age analysis of artifacts.

When the sample was rigorously tested at a laboratory in Arizona, it was discovered that the date fell between 1260 to 1390, contradicting the belief that it came from the period of Christ.

However, the shroud continued to attract attention, due to the discovery of various pollen grains within the fabric, that could only have come from an area around Jerusalem. Interestingly, some of the pollens discovered near the head, were shown to be those of a thistle, which is the plant that the Crown of Thorns is supposed to have been made from.

Another relic, the Sudarium of Oviedo, believed to be the burial face cloth of Christ, also has pollens from the same thistle species.

Intriguingly, both the Turin Shroud and the Sudarium of Oviedo share matching blood stain patterns. But the composition of the blood has yet to be tested.

Both have long been hailed by critics as elaborate Medieval hoaxes. The results from the 1988 carbon dating, certainly proffered support for this position. Nonetheless, the image continues to capture the attention of the sceptics, because of the mystery surrounding its creation. Most scientists agree that the image is not a painting.

As the Medieval hypothesis was beginning to become established, the results of a recent study, conducted by Raymond N. Rogers of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, has contradicted the 1988 research. He believes that the cloth is much older, suggesting that it may be between 1,500 to 3000 years old.

He discovered that the cloth sample taken in 1988 was actually a piece of Medieval linen, that was used to patch-up fire damage. He drew his conclusions after discovering that the sample cloth contained dyes that were used to match the colour of the original cloth. These dyes are not found anywhere else on the shroud.

He also tested for a chemical called vanillin. The levels of vanillin, a compound found in plant material, falls over time. "The fact that vanillin cannot be detected in the lignin on shroud fibres, Dead Sea scrolls linen and other very old linens indicates that the shroud is quite old," Rogers concluded. This led to his startling estimations for its age.

Further tests will no doubt be carried out on the famed shroud. The faithful will remain steadfast, while the sceptics will do everything to debunk it.

For those who believe in the New Testament, there could be no better vindicator of their faith, if the shroud can be verified for its origin and age. In the meantime, it remains one of the world's great curios.

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