Seven short and simple answers to the Shroud of Turin Enigma Challenge – and a plea for the reporting of real science…


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:


It’s now  three months we are told since David Rolfe, celebrated documentary maker turned media science expert, issued his challenge to Richard Dawkins re the Shroud of Turin ( “If you’re right about your atheism, then how do you explain the Shroud?” or words to that effect).

Mr.Rolfe’s checklist (in bold) no doubt the result of much legwork on his part, not to say goading and arm twisting at the recent Shroudie Convention in Valencia. The latter was notable for advancing science probably to about the same degree as last week’s Spanish Grand Prix at the same location. But at least we know what transpired at the race circuit .  My responses – the bits that are not in bold…

1. The body image is created by molecular change of linen fibres. There are also bloodstains. There is no body image beneath the bloodstains. (For the avoidance of doubt, this characteristic does not exclude the possibility that the molecular change may have taken place in an impurity layer at the linen surface).

Yes, there is probably molecular change of linen fibres.  That’s if one excludes Rogers’ Occam’s Razor blunting  hypothesis, the one  that posits a chemical reaction between putrefaction vapours and surface impurities.  It was the initial omission of that and the criticism that followed  that occasioned Rolfe’s later addition in italics. Shame it makes the opening statement self-contradictory.

There’s a simpler name for the molecular change in the linen fibres. It is called a scorch. It is not necessarily in the cellulose. It is more likely to be in the hemicelluloses of the primary cell wall.

There are no proven bloodstains, or at any rate ORIGINAL bloodstains. There may be pigmented stains that look like blood (strange that they are eternally red, differ from the spectrum of known porphyrins, lack potassium etc but never mind, let’s not get hung up on the geekish detail).

The original real or look-alike “bloodstains” may have later been  touched up with  blood, blood serum or fake blood.  That’s a bit more complicated than saying “bloodstains”.  But then science, real science, does tend be more complicated than the made- for-TV variety.

 2  The body image does not penetrate below the surface fibres. The body image is not visible when illuminated by transmitted light. The bloodstains are.

Yes, the body image is superficial, It is called a scorch. Scorches tend to be superficial  What bloodstains? Proof positive please.

3  The body image varies in intensity that correlates to expected cloth-body distances had the cloth covered a body.

Where is the proof that the cloth was ever draped over a real body? Ever heard the expression “begging the question”? (Original meaning, that is, not to be confused with “inviting the question”)

4  The sides of the body are not represented even where blood has transferred to the cloth and between the head images.

Yes, we have no side image. That means there was no imaging of the sides. That’s because only the frontal and dorsal sides were imaged. Does that sound like a real body was imaged? I thought real bodies, living or dead, had sides.

(Afterthought to those who think I am being flippant: the absence of sides or top of head is a only a problem for those who think the Shroud is authentic . It is not a problem for those who think it is a forgery. So why include it in a list of criteria that have to be met? It’s much easier to imprint a  twin front-and-back image than a coming- to-a-cinema-near-you, surround-a- scope one, free 360° viewing spectacles provided   😉

5 The resolution of the image is sufficient to resolve body features of a few millimetres.


6  There are no outlines or directionality to the body image within the plane of the cloth.

Sounds like a thermal imprint if you ask me, produced by pressing cloth against a heated template. It’s what cattle ranchers call a brand (produced by pressing a heated template, aka branding iron, against cattle hide). Ever heard of transferable skills?

7 The body image has the visual characteristics of a photographic negative. That is, normal light and dark areas are reversed.

Again, it’s what cattle ranchers call a brand.

Update:  see the new post that immediately follows this one for my own checklist of essential criteria.


OK, so I’m still inclined to be a little waspish where our friend Mr.Rolfe is concerned (not helped by his accepting a few of my comments on his site and then, without explanation, placing a block on further ones).

So let’s end on a more constructive note, though it will not come as music to the ears of those who promote Shroud mystery, or who are only interested in the kind of pseudo-science that promotes mystery, that keeps the Travelling Magical Mystery Shroud  Show on the road, in spite of (their much-maligned) radiocarbon dating.

In  the past few months I have taken up an earlier idea of John Jackson of the original STURP team, namely that the Shroud image was produced from a hot bas relief template (and have made no secret of the fact that Jackson, having reproduced the negative image AND encoded 3D information was too harsh a critic of his own findings, and should have persevered with that line of investigation rather than abandoning it on what I consider perfectionist or maybe other grounds).

A thermal imprint can be made as faint and superficial as one wishes, as this experiment showed with serial stamping from hot horse brasses onto linen,

My own humble investigations are on show each time I post on this site (see banner).

Last night, after writing this post, I had an idea that might overcome some of the objections made against “branding” aka scorching onto linen with a heated template, i.e. that it would be difficult to control temperature, so as to get a superficial scorch only, that making a detailed template would take too much time and effort,

So how about this simple modification to the procedure? Instead of pressing hot metal into linen with a backing bed of cold sand, press COLD metal into a backing bed of HEATED sand.

Result: one should get a softer fuzzier image, as per Shroud,  it would be much easier to control temperature (heat a bed of sand until it gives the right result on testing) and the template would not need to be detailed (recalling that the Shroud image is at best a somewhat fuzzy and indistinct image, lacking in fine detail). This reversed model would still explain why the prominences like the nose, chin etc are the ones to be best imaged, capturing “3D” information in the process. It would explain why “hair” on the Shroud has no discernible strand-like fine detail. Even if a template had such detail, it would not imprint if the template was applied from the opposite side of  linen instead of directly on top. My reverse-stamp model might even account for the ghostly reverse-side image seen in digital image re-processing (with much noise, rather less signal): the template, initially cold, would acquire heat by conduction when pressed into the linen, sufficient perhaps to leave a faint image on the more reactive linen components of that side, probably those PCW hemicelluloses that I have previously discussed in detail (the most visited of my postings by the way). the image could even be built up in stages, e.g. by wetting parts of the linen that were not ready to receive template to protect from hot sand.

I shall dig out my templates today – that Ghanaian trinket that you see in the banner and the horse brasses – and see if this ” hot sand/reverse side branding” model works. I’ll report the results, whatever the outcome, this blog being about a journey – a scientific foray reported in real time- not as some imagine an attempt to debunk a revered icon purely for kicks. If there are any kicks here, they are solely from re-experiencing the buzz of research, of  never knowing what new ideas will come to mind, or what results each new day will bring. That’s why I set up my science buzz site some 3 years ago, and used it just 7 months ago to the day  to describe my very first attempt to reproduce the Shroud image, by a technique I called thermo-stencilling (December 30 2011).  Things have moved on a bit since then, with the emphasis now on direct contact   (zero air gap) between cloth and template/ linen modification by heat conduction as distinct from imaging at a distance by heat radiation, even with the benefit of charcoal powder as a thermosensitizer.

Why do you ignore the new science, Mr.Rolfe?  Does it not fit with your preconceptions, the ones you were so keen to have carved on tablets of zone stone when you pestered the  conference participants at Valencia to subscribe to your list of largely dud or redundant “consensus” points.

Science by consensus? No thanks. I prefer science by free unfettered enquiry, science by thinking out of the box. That’s why I am a published scientist and why you are a film producer, Mr. Rolfe,  the difference being  that I  have no desire to wear a second hat as a film producer, while you …   oh never mind.

Further reading:   Three months today the Dawkins challenge  

PS  And here’s a taster (teaser?) for my next posting, Shroud Scope 11, hot from the presses. It is the latest image from a systematic study of those “blood stains” on the Shroud using the wonderful Shroud Scope, the subject of numerous recent postings here. This time I have focused on the “scourge marks”, allegedly blood (although showing no signs of broken skin that I can detect). I have used the brightness and contrast controls to get optimum differentiation between body image (grey) and scourge mark (reddish-brown). Look carefully at the areas where one abuts/encroaches on the other.

Scourge marks, dorsal Shroud, top of back. Shroud Scope default settings left, adjusted brightness and contrast right.

Click on image to magnify

Which came first? The scourge mark (“blood”) or the body image? More to come…

Finally, from Davor Aslanovski on The Other Site: (what a brilliant comment)

We are not dealing with just a scientific heresy – a veritable pseudoscience has been created. Sindonology. The study of one single relic, isolated from everything else, conducted outside the world of orthodox academia, and often with deep disrespect and distrust for what the orthodox scientists have to say. And when any orthodox scientist reads the endless on-line discussions of these ‘sindonologists’, the papers presented at their conferences, and the occasional publications that they produce, he will invariably notice one thing: these people veritably despise the academic world. And this warrants some attention and an attempt to understand why this is so. I propose this answer: The average ‘sindonologist’ has come to the (accurate) conclusion that the image in the Shroud is like no other in the history of human art, and that it, at least for the time being, escapes scientific explanation; he has, through various experiences in his life, become fed up (and rightly so) with the skepticism, rationalism, agnosticism, and the general disbelief that permeate the academic world today; he has done some research and has found a number of things in various scientific disciplines (in at least some of which he has no expertise of his own) that could conceivably be used to prove that the relic is authentic; he has most probably always had a healthy passion for mysteries; and he is, more often than not, passionate about his religion as well. Through a combination of these factors, he continues to been drawn to this enigmatic object. He is often aware that experts have refuted some of his claims, but refuses to change his mind – because these experts are generally not very inspiring to him. Their skepticism, rationalism, and agnosticism, mentioned above, is in fact repulsive to him, and, to a great degree in deliberate opposition to them, he chooses to believe. He chooses a wonderfully mysterious fantasy over the dreary, cheerless reality. And who can possibly blame him? I certainly don’t. But it is a heresy nevertheless. And, as such, it can teach us a lot.)

Response from David Mo, a kindred spirit of mine where the earlier debate on the Pray Codex was concerned (note the reference to “wishful thinking”:

Davor: I think that raising the issue as a struggle between orthodox and heterodox is a bad approach to be discussed outside the academic world.

The fact that in a hundred years the sindonists have placed only a handful of articles in scientific journals and their presence in meetings and faculties of history is virtually inexistent does not say much for their “orthodoxy”. But that will never be accepted by the sindonists. Especially those with no academic experience, who are the majority.

You have clearly shown that Wilson’s arguments are inconsistent. You have shown a high level of competence. But you can not expect that people who discuss with you have the same competence. You can not even pretend that they realize that their arguments are wishful thinking. Because if it would so it would cease to be wishful thinking.

We are not talking with scientists, Davor. We’re among believers.






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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2 Responses to Seven short and simple answers to the Shroud of Turin Enigma Challenge – and a plea for the reporting of real science…

  1. colinsberry says:

    I have just this minute posted this comment to David Rolfe’s Enigma site, using an open entry log in to avoid his block on my comments 9which may or may not still be in place). My comment has appeared, but will it still be there tomorrow? We shall see,

    Has the block been lifted?

    I’ve just this minute completed a posting/cum critique of your Enigma Challenge, Mr.Rolfe.

    If this appears here, then I will need to remove the reference to your having blocked my comments – or rather state that after several weeks the block has been lifted

    Why did you remove that HD image from your banner, btw, the one whose provenance I questioned, and was so keen to see more of? In fact, I have since discovered the similar Durante 2002 archive on Shroud Scope, a fascinating resource, and one I have used for well over 10 postings now.

    Colin Berry aka sciencebod

  2. Pingback: Rude Comment of the Day « Shroud of Turin Blog

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