A scientist’s eye view of how the iconic Turin Shroud image came about – a happy accident of thermographic and photographic inversion?

Late addition (July 2019)

Please forgive this postscript, correction, “prescript”,  correction, intrusion, added many years later – based on some 350 and more postings here and elsewhere.

That’s including some 7 years of my hands-on investigation into image-forming techniques, chosen to be credible with simple, indeed crude, medieval (14th century) technology etc etc.

(Oh, and yes, I accept the radiocarbon dating, despite it being restricted to a single non-random corner sample, making all the oh-so-dismissive, oh-so-derogatory statistics-based sniping totally irrelevant – a ranging shot being just that me dears- a single ranging shot, albeit subdivided into three for Arizona, Oxford and Zurich).
Sindonology (i.e. the “science” , read pseudoscience – of the so-called “Shroud ” of Turin) can be simply summed up. It’s a re-branding exercise, one designed to pretend that the prized Turin possession is not just J of A’s “fine linen”, described in the biblical account as used to transport a crucified body from cross to tomb.

Oh no, it goes further, much further, way way beyond the biblical account. How? By making out that it was the SAME linen as that described in the Gospel of John, deployed as final “burial clothes”. Thus the description “Shroud” for the Turin Linen, usually with the addition “burial shroud”. Why the elision of two different linens, deployed for entirely different purposes (transport first, then final interment)? 
Go figure! Key words to consider are: authentic relic v manufactured medieval icon; mystique, peaceful death-repose, unlimited opportunity for proposing new and ever more improbable image-formation mechanisms etc. How much easier it is to attach the label “Holy” to Shroud if seen as final burial clothes, in final at-peace repose – prior to Resurrection- as distinct from a means of temporary swaying side-to-side transport in an improvised makeshift stretcher !
As I say, a rebranding exercise (transport to final burial shroud) and a very smart and subtle one at that . Not for nothing did that angry local Bishop of Troyes suddenly refer to a “sleight of hand” after allegedly accepting it when first displayed. Seems the script was altered, or as some might say, tampered with! It might also explain why there were two Lirey badges, not just one. Entire books could be written on which of the two came first… I think I know which, with its allusion (?) to the Veil of Veronica… yes, there are alternative views (the face above “SUAIRE” a visual link to the face-only display of the Linen as the “Image of Edessa” or as that on the then current “Shroud” per se.



Face shown  (left) on mid- 14th century Machy Mould (recently discovered variant of the Lirey Pilgrim Badge) above the word “SUAIRE” (allegedly meaning “shroud”). Inset image on the right: one version among many of the fabled “Veil of Veronica” image.  I say the two are related, and deliberately so, but this is not the time or place to go into detail.

No, NOT  a resurrectional selfie, but instead a full size version of, wait for it,  the legendary VEIL OF VERONICA , product of inital body contact – no air gaps- between body and fabric, but with one important difference. The Turin image was intended to look more realistic, less artistic.

How? By displaying a negative tone-reversed image implying IMPRINT (unless, that is, you’re a modern day sindonologist, in which case ‘resurrectional proto-photographic selfie” becomes the preferred, nay, vigorously proferred explanation assisted by unrestrained imagination, creation of endless pseudoscience etc etc, with resort to laser beams, corona discharges, nuclear physics, elementary particles, earthquakes etc etc – the list is seemingly endless! 
Welcome to modern day sindonology. 
Personally, I prefer no-nonsense feet-on-the-ground hypothesis-testing science, aided by lashings of, wait for it, plain down-to-earth common sense.

Start of original posting:


Step 1: get yourself a stick of artist’s charcoal, do a quick sketch of the Man on the Shroud.

OK, so it’s a crude cartoon. But this post is about the mechanics of turning an image – any image – into a luminous, haunting end-result …

Next step: reverse light/dark tonal contrast (I used ImageJ software)

Picture 2 was too black/white. So I used photo-editing software to adjust contrast/brightness to get a softer grey image.

Now put the image back into ImageJ software for 3D enhancement.

Ring any bells?  Certainly it’s crude, but it shows how a quickie drawn image can produce a ‘ghostly’ end -result.

Before and after. But is the above kind of image manipulation still being employed on a grand scale for mind manipulation? Ah, now there’s a thought to conjure with…

A much better Shroud-like image can be obtained with scorching instead of charcoal sketching, using a hot iron applied free hand  ( I raise my hat to pyrographic artiste  Irene Corgiat) or, better still, by imprinting off a hot bas-relief template.

Making the “scorch” image from the hot template produces ‘thermographic inversion” (the prominent parts of image like the nose which appear light in a photograph register instead as  dark due to better contact with linen). The result is a ‘negative’ image.

Inverting the negative image back to a positive produces a luminous ghostly image, unlike a normal photographic positive? Why? Because the features that were imprinted and thus emphasised in the original imprint end up ‘de-emphasised’, and those that were left un-imaged – as white space – end up emphasised.

Is it any wonder why the iconic Shroud image looks so much better than the original negative imprint? IT IS – because the inversion/reversion cycle produces a unique ghostly effect that the world of art and photography has largely overlooked and/or ignored.  Maybe there is a limited market for luminous ghostly images – no matter how much artistic value is added  to crudely drawn images.

Finally, on a lighter note, assertions that the Shroud image, and that image  alone, uniquely contains encoded 3D information is what I call Mickey Mouse science, and is perhaps best  answered with the following:

And it’s not just my ‘cartoon’ that responds to the 3D treatment (thanks ImageJ).

Addendum: added 14 May.  I have received an email from an image-researcher regarding my 3D techniques (using ImageJ software). Without stating chapter-and-verse, here’s a screen grab that shows three stages of smoothing, i.e. from zero through 12.0 to 33.0.

3D imaging with three levels of smoothing (ImageJ)

It shows how the 3D image starts as the addition of a vertical z axis, and then converts each pixel from 2D to 3D by elongating along the new vertical z axis in proportion to the pixel density (zero smoothing, first on left). Smoothing then …  smooths.

About Colin Berry

Retired science bod, previous research interests: phototherapy of neonatal jaundice, membrane influences on microsomal UDP-glucuronyltransferase, defective bilirubin and xenobiotic conjugation and hepatic excretion, dietary fibre and resistant starch.
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3 Responses to A scientist’s eye view of how the iconic Turin Shroud image came about – a happy accident of thermographic and photographic inversion?

  1. colinsberry says:

    Overview (based on some 30 or so postings to date, and heavily influenced by the Lirey Pilgrim’s Badge, aka Cluny Medal -see my previous post):

    The Turin Shroud is of 14th century provenance, but it is neither a hoax nor a fake. It was commissioned, by the knightly Geoffroi de Charny and his wife as a monument – but a monument with a difference. It was not a 3D monument, of marble or wrought iron, but a novel 2D monument of scorched fabric, fashioned as if a burial shroud. Why go to all that trouble? Answer: because it had to be a muted monument, one that could be easily rolled up and hidden away, given that anti-Templar sentiment was still rife in the Church and State in early 14th century France. Furthermore, it was cleverly conceived as a metaphor that was fitting to that era of French history, specifically to the hideous manner in which the last of the Knights Templar were slow-roasted, i.e.scorched to death in 1314, most famously Jacques de Molay and Geoffroi de Charney (Charney-with-an “e”, who some believe was the nephew of the Charny who died at the stake). Again, I believe the image on the Shroud to be a scorch, a thermal imprint from a 3D, or semi-3D bas relief, either metal or baked clay. That makes the image not just a thermograph, but a ‘tactilograph’ too, one that has captured the relief, i.e. contours of the hot template. That would explain the high degree of ‘encoded 3D information’ – but note that the latter can be demonstrated with a 2D sketch alone, as shown by Irene Corgiat with her pyrograph, and here in this posting with nothing more than a stick of charcoal.

  2. Pingback: Those “unique” 3D properties of the Shroud seem to be proving more of a hindrance than a help to those keen to promote their New Age radiation physics. | The Turin Shroud: medieval scorch? Separating the science from the pseudo-science…

  3. Pingback: A revised flow-chart model for why the Turin Shroud was first documented in 14th century France. | The Shroud of Turin: medieval scorch? Separating the science from the pseudo-science…

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