Shroud Scope 5: now for a more down-to-earth interpretation of those hands than the one supplied by those wacky Shroudologists.

Here’s a picture that currently adorns another site. Its file name is “thumb” so its provenance is clear. It is “a UV photo of the hands region on the Shroud …  taken in 1978 by Vern Miller of STURP


It’s from one or other Shroudology site that makes two claims regarding the hands – or rather the hand on top – that I wish to re-examine now using the wonderful Shroud Scope.

Why is the graphic labelled ‘thumb’, when in fact there are no thumbs visible? Ah, but there is. Can’t you see it?  It’s that shadowed area  to the right of the ‘bloodstain’ on the wrist, or so we are informed  …

In the middle of the palm?

Did I hear you say “You can’t be serious?”  Yes, I am serious. It’s claimed to be a thumb that is behind the hand, and we are seeing an X-ray image of the thumb.

Now how on earth did anyone arrive at that conclusion you may ask?  Well, it’s like this. The nail is/was through the wrist we are told, not the palm as generally believed (mechanically better for the purposes of crucifixion we are told – though no one bothered to point that out  prior to the Shroud providing a detail that somehow evaded the Biblical account, with the anomaly  that  stigmata always appeared mistakenly on the palm).   The nail  we are told damaged a major nerve in the wrist which in turn caused the thumb to retract across the palm, so is out of sight, but for that X-ray effect.

So where you may ask do X-rays come into it. Ah, well, it’s like this. The image of the Shroud was created by an intense flash of high energy radiation – X rays maybe or longer wave gamma rays, and those rays not only created the image on the cloth, but also a kind of radiograph, like the one hospitals use to show broken bones etc.

Now do you see why I have included “wacky” in my title, because here you see Shroudology at its wackiest. Nope, it’s not internet-fixated teenagers who are producing this stuff. This is dished up by people with science or medical degrees at Shroudology congresses, delivered with the straightest of faces to attentive audiences, and which subsequently appears as a paper in the non-peer reviewed proceedings, to be cited in perpetuity as pdf files on  Shroudie sites (the ones that refuse to publish my comments, or who want to vet them first).

Well, what does the Shroud Scope have to say about that hand upon which so much attention and speculation has been lavished

The first question to ask is whether one would have spotted a X-ray thumb if it had not been pointed out.



I say not. There is certainly quite a lot of image density there, but thumb shaped?  Agreed, it looks more thumb-shaped in the original 1978 graphic. But I am doubtful about its reliability. Why? If you look at the Shroud Scope graphic, there is a prominent vertical line approx mid picture that appears to be a slightly raised rib in the weave that has been preferentially “scorched”. That rib is scarcely visible in the other graphic. That suggests to me that there has been some editing which just happens to de-emphasise that rib, while bringing up a more thumb-like outline.  Personally I prefer images that have had minimal post-processing, and frankly see no strong grounds for thinking there is a “retracted thumb” in the picture. If it were really there, as a result of “X ray imaging” then why do we not see more of the skeleton elsewhere on the image. (In fact we are assured that teeth have been X-ray imaged as well, again not obvious under Shroud Scope, though I have seen hints in other pictures, mainly inverted ones that change the Shroud pseudo-negative image to a positive, but I prefer to work with the original negative, avoiding any chance of optical illusions created by light/dark reversal).

I have discussed that blood stain on the wrist previously, pointing out that I can see no wound beneath it. Why not, given that scourge marks, which are superficial wounds, are so prominent a part of the Shroud image generally? In fact, the more I look at the “bloodstain” with its prominent plum coloration, the more inclined I am to think it is not real blood, and was added later. In fact, I think there is a lot of fake blood all over the Shroud image, which appears as that plum colour on the Shroud Scope image (Durante 2002).

Here’s the Scope/Durante image at maximum enlargement, maximum contrast:

Hand with ‘bloodstain’ and ”X-ray thumb’ :maximum enlargement, maximum contrast

Note that while the mid-palm region identified as an X-ray image of a hidden thumb on the original graphic looks relatively homogeneous, that is not the case on the highly magnified image above. There it looks like a patchwork of at least two different hues, neither of which could be said to look “thumb-like”, not even ‘retracted thumb-like”. There is what might loosely be described a very faint oval-shaped plum-coloured area, with three tan-coloured areas superimposed (without being able to state what overlies what). I see nothing there that remotely resembles a thumb, do you?

There is probably original untouched-up blood on the Shroud, but it is highly aged – at least 600 years  whether or not one accepts the radiocarbon dating .  That  blood is so highly degraded as probably to be iron oxide by now, which if Fe2O3 is rust coloured and probably indistinguishable from the rest of the Shroud image, at least with the naked eye. Based on  these images alone, it is not possible to tell whether an intense sepia or tan-coloured region represents extra-strong imaging of skin – for whatever reason – or ancient blood. if the later, then it places the same question mark over the intensely plum-coloured regions like the one on the wrist – are they real blood or not?

In fact, one could speculate that there was a representation of blood on that hand in the region of higher sepia density, i.e. mid palm). It was a later custodian of the Shroud who decided to apply some new blood to the wrist. Whether that was to win plaudits from the biomechanical engineers who attempt to analyse the stresses of crucifixion, or simply someone who wanted to apply it to previously unmarked skin, the wrist being closest, or simply being short-sighted, who knows? We shall probably never know unless someone stumbles on the True Confessions of a Shroud Custodian. Oh, by the way, I don’t think the “thumb” is a thumb, or even an ancient degraded bloodstain. I think it is more probably the knuckle region that has imaged well due to making good early contact with the linen, as did the tips of the fingers of the other hand, perhaps with some sliding and double-imaging that explains why those fingers look too long.

But there’s one thing I know based on a career in chemical and biochemical research, and through having taught basic scientific principles.  There is no X-ray imaged thumb on the Shroud of Turin. That is Shroudology at its wackiest. Well almost. I forgot to mention the researchers who self-administered radioactive technetium-99m  in an attempt to model that X-ray thumb!  There’s one born every minute, nay several (where would Shroudology be without them?) …

For a well-informed account of human anatomy, to say nothing of sound common sense, read Frederick Zugibe’s Turin Lecture.  See separate link to his bio. Here’s what he said re thumbs:

THE MISSING THUMBS:  For decades, one of the major points used by the defenders of the Shroud to support authenticity was the absence of the thumbs. The expression,, “Could a forger have imagined this” was coined by Barbet when he postulated that the missing thumb on the Shroud was due to injury to the median nerve by the passage of the nail which stimulated the nerve causing the thumb to be drawn into the palm of the hand.  This phrase has been quoted numerous times in books, magazine articles, lectures etc. It has become a  “Shroud spin”.  Unfortunately,  this is incorrect and invoking “Occams razor”,  we find a simple explanation  that separates fact from fiction. The reason  as to why the thumbs are not visible on the Shroud image is simply because their natural position both in death and in the living person is in the front of and slightly to the side of the index finger.  This is readily demonstrated by extending your arms in front of you with your hands in a relaxed position and note that the thumbs are below the index finger. Cross your wrists and note  that your thumbs are hidden behind the index fingers. I have observed this on a daily basis in the medical examiner’s office over the past thirty years on deceased individuals who are regularly brought into our morgue wrapped in shrouds or sheets with their wrists crossed and frequently tied together.  The shrouds or sheets  never contact the thumbs. In every case, the thumbs are in a position in front of and slightly to the side of the index fingers.  The shrouds or sheets  never contact the thumbs. Barbet’s explanation has to be incorrect for two reasons;  the median nerve does not pass through Destot’s space and even if it did and was injured,  there would be no flexion of the thumb. Dr. Ernest Lampe, one of world’s leading hand surgeons relates that in severance of the median nerve…… “there is inability to flex the thumb, index and middle fingers”.  This was confirmed in the case of lady described above who was stabbed in the Z-area of the hand while defending herself.  Although the median nerve was injured  and the knife exited in the exact place where the Shroud shows the hand wound image,   the thumb was not drawn into the palm.


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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