OK, so there is bilirubin in the Shroud bloodstains (or so we are told). But how much precisely?

Is the clinician content to say that the hand on the right is jaundiced on account of “an extraordinary amount of bilirubin”? Yet STURP investigators go unchallenged when they make that kind of statement.

Important update: Thursday 25th October:  This comment  appeared a short while ago from the formidable Kelly Kearse ( amusingly self-styled “card-carrying immunologist”) on Daniel Porter’s shroudstory.com site: Click on the #1 (blue) link below to see just the comment:

I have bolded  two key passages.

October 24, 2012 at 7:14 pm | #1

The suggestion that the bloodstains on the Shroud contained a high amount of bilirubin (relative to normal blood) originated from Adler’s spectral analysis using FTIR & UV-VIS techniques. Such analysis measures absorbance at specific wavelengths of light and generates a graph, or profile, which is compared to those of various (known) blood clot controls. The Shroud spectrum did not completely match the control spectrum of old blood (which typically turns brown). Rather, certain peaks on the graph corresponded to another known group of compounds-the high-spin (high-iron) porphyrins: breakdown products of hemoglobin-bilirubin & biverdin. By creating simulated mixtures of blood exudates with additional bilirubin, Adler was able to create samples whose profiles matched those of the Shroud, hence the suggestion that elevated bilirubin was present. The spectral techniques that were used are semi-quantitative; they really only demonstrate that a particular compound (peak) is enhanced or decreased relative to a normal profile-the studies were not extended to a more quantitative analysis.

Regarding “Adler’s advising the Shroud’s custodians to install extra light protection for the Shroud on the grounds that bilirubin was unstable to light”, this is only one of several factors that was mentioned, together with photochemical damage to the cloth and the images. A little context might help alleviate (Yup) some of the confusion…


Thank you Kelly.  As I suspected: this was nothing more than a spectral modelling exercise, a Friday afternoon experiment. There was no QUANTITATIVE estimation of bilirubin. More importantly there was not even a QUALITATIVE test either.  That was not science. It was PSEUDO-SCIENCE.

There are no SCIENTIFIC grounds whatsoever on which to base the claim that there is ANY bilirubin in the Shroud bloodstains, far less those “extraordinary” quantities that Adler claimed, and which have been quoted in perpetuity as if hard scientific fact.  In a word: a major BULLSH*TTING exercise. Yet this is the work that the President of the also amusingly self-styled “Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association” (STERA Inc) cited as what for him was the clincher that overcame, he says, his initial scepticism re the blood stains (and authenticity) of the Shroud – a piece of bullsh*t research that models bilirubin interactions without bothering to check that the stuff was even there after centuries of exposure to light and oxygen (bilirubin is sensitive to both, being bleached and/or chemically altered – the basis of the phototherapy of neonatal jaundice on which I worked for two years at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital Medical School).

So thank you Kelly for confirming what I had long suspected, based on my reading those non-redacted parts of Adler’s work, like that “Orphaned Manuscript ” pdf file which are available free online, the rest being behind a paywall.  I had refused to part with good money to see the rest, knowing , as a previous bilirubin specialist, that Adler’s entirely hypothetical  methaemoglobin/bilirubin complex, as an explanation for ‘permanently red blood’,  was pure hokum, and everything that Kelly Kearse has written above  would confirm that with little room for doubt.

Oh, and here’s how wikipedia describes Adler’s concerns re the Shroud’s condition  under the entry: “Conservation of the Shroud of Turin”

“American researcher Alan D. Adler, confirming the presence of bilirubin on the fabric, noted that it is not light-stable and may change the color under any light. According to Adler, since the image fibers are at or near saturation while the surrounding cloth is not, the latter will gradually get darker until the image first becomes a silhouette and later finally vanishes.

I chose to focus on the part relevant to bilirubin. Discussing the “wider context” would have been a needless distraction from my point that Adler had first argued for bilirubin as a stabilizing agent, allowing blood to remain permanently red for centuries, but was then contradicting himself when warning the Shroud custodians that bilirubin in the bloodstains is unstable to light.

End of update. Here’s my original posting.

This post is exactly as per title, no more, no less. No digs, no cynicism – just an open-ended question that I have been asking for months and getting no answer – either from reading or raising it in discussion.

Why raise it now? I have just come across the following comment on The Other Site:

“… remember the very high level of bilirubin folks because this can potentially be important in order to understand the nature of the image and to eventually solve the mystery…”

Well, we’d all like to solve the mystery of the Shroud, and if bilirubin has a part to play, then ought we not to know precisely how much was there, if only to be certain that SOME was there?

So what’s the answer. I’m happy to have the answer  in old money (mg%) or in SI units, e.g  mmoles /decilitre. But please don’t quote back Alan D Adler’s comment that there were “extraordinary levels of bilirubin”.  I am already familiar with that quotation.  However, there’s little prospect of “solving the mystery of the Shroud”  (sic) when the amount of an allegedly crucial signature of trauma and crucifixion is reported as “extraordinary”,  leaving one to speculate as to whether that is just 1 mg% or 20 mg%. That’s the difference between normal and highly jaundiced. Oh, and let’s not bother for now about the proportion of the bilirubin that was conjugated or  unconjugated  with glucuronic acid (which clinicians use an an aid to differential diagnosis, e.g whether the bilirubin was due to excessive haemolysis of red blood cells or due to  liver or kidney impairment). Total bilirubin will do. If you can say how it was measured, so much the better.

Btw: there has to be lots of bilirubin according to Alan Adler, to explain why the blood looks permanently red. But that did not prevent him advising the Shroud’s custodians to instal extra light protection for the Shroud on the grounds that bilirubin was unstable to light. Yup, I’m confused too…

Postscript: Please see the post that immediately precedes this one for my initial response (Part 1 of 2) to the paper by Thibault Heimburger on the scorch hypothesis.  Part 2, dealing addressing his  microscopic findings, will follow in a day or two.


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.
This entry was posted in Shroud of Turin and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to OK, so there is bilirubin in the Shroud bloodstains (or so we are told). But how much precisely?

  1. Hugh Farey says:

    So, if I chop one of my fingers off (suddenly, so I haven’t had time to panic or stress) and collect the blood, screaming in pain, and then chop off another (when the pain and stress has increased my bilirubin levels) and collect that…
    Sorry, school laboratory science does have its limitations….
    And I wouldn’t know how to measure the bilirubin levels anyway!

  2. colinsberry says:

    I suspect it takes a lot more than amputation, or even “trauma” to elevate bilirubin. It’s understandable that should happen in foot strike injury where the red cells are subject to mechanical stress and undergo haemolysis, but to read some of the Shroudie literature, most emanating from Alan D Adler – a man with a limitless imagination – one could be forgiven for thinking that any prolonged trauma induces severe jaundice. That’s news to me… What could be the mechanism? Scourging, maybe, but if that is primarily damage to superficial blood capillaries, would not most of the damaged red blood cells simply bleed out, rather than return to the venous circulation (how could they if the capillary vessels are damaged?)

    Returning to what you said in an earlier comment, Hugh

    “6) I read somewhere that pink fluorescence might be due to the charring of the cloth in the absence of oxygen. I tried heating a bit of linen tightly wrapped in tinfoil, and also inserting it into a test tube with boiling water in the bottom (driving out the air). Fluorescence remains firmly greeny yellow.”

    I seem to recall a chemistry experiment in which something was heated in sand to exclude oxygen. It may have been to make charcoal, or perhaps something more exciting. Maybe that would be worth a try

    Incidentally, I suspect that some scorching from templates is effectively anaerobic – evaporation of adsorbed linen moisture and then pyrolysis generating steam etc that, having nowhere to go except through the interstices of the weave to the underside, effectively flushes out oxygen along the way. But oxygen may be needed to get certain classes of pyrolysis products or reaction pathways with more or less fluorescent products, maybe some fluorescing red, some green. Plenty there to occupy the experimentalist. The field is clear (I discovered early on in my research career that my eyes are very sensitive to uv, of which there was a great deal in the intense light source I used for my phototherapy studies – a high pressure mercury lamp – ostensibly for uv – from which I had removed the filter to get the visible light). Incipient retinal damage (and bad headaches) was what the optician said – so I’d advise you to take care… Maybe ordinary specs filter out most of the uv, as they are supposed to theoretically, but they didn’t protect me…

  3. Bilirubin is one of other indications that the Shroud is authentic.The Shroud is the visual gospel of the sufferings,death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus of Nazareth.It is a stumbling rock like His owner for those who hear but do not understand,and who see but do not perceive same as in the days of His sufferings.

    • colinsberry says:

      When I went to Philadelphia to work on the phototherapy of neonatal jaundice, all but one of the overhead strip lights had been removed from the lab.That’s because bilirubin is photosensitive – the very property that is exploited in phototherapy.

      I know that Alan D. Adler claimed there were “extraordinary” levels of bilirubin in Shroud bloodstains. Quite how he could have known that, given his rudimentary analytical procedures, is anyone’s guess, and why was a scientist using a term like “extraordinary”? Scientists are supposed to be precise and quantitative.

      I remain to be convinced that there is ANY surviving bilirubin in Shroud blood, and even if there were, I defy anyone to show it can link up with oxidized haemoglobin (methaemoglobin) to form a permanently red pigment.Bilirubin prefers to keep its own company (forming internal hydrogen bonds that account for its poor solubility in most solvents, except those like DMSO etc that disrupt hydrogen bonds).

      Sorry, but I deal in ‘hard’ chemistry and biochemistry. Adler had no business using STURP as a launch pad for his fanciful and far-fetched speculation. Barrie Schwortz should stop proselytizing Shroud authenticity on the back of Adler’s bilirubin hunch that was in my considered view complete NUTS.

  4. colinsberry says:

    I’ve just received an email from WordPress that begins as follows:

    Just Another WordPress Weblog
    ← Freshly Pressed: Friday Faves
    Greater Security with Two Step Authentication

    We know your blog is important to you, and today we’re proud to announce Two Step Authentication: an optional new feature to help you keep your WordPress.com account secure. For those of you who use Two Step Authentication with your Google account, you’ll know how useful this feature is for keeping your account secure.

    Two Step Authentication works like this: when you log in to your WordPress.com account, we’ll prompt you to enter a secret number. To get that secret number, you’ll need to download the Google Authenticator App on your smartphone. It generates a new number every 30 seconds, making it virtually impossible to guess. All you need to do is open the app on your phone, and type in the number it’s showing. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can instead opt to have the number SMSed to you…

    As it happens I had already semi-mothballed this site (maybe just as well). Don’t be surprised to find the site totally mummified next time you visit, or at any rate in suspended animation, given that I have no intention, now or in the future, of combining my internet and mobile/landline existences. We bloggers have to be extra security-conscious – WordPress does not seem to appreciate that…

    • Adrie says:

      Right, Colin. Again I agree. I have no intention either of combining the two, ever.
      Thanks for all your input on this blog and others. I’ve enjoyed our conversation and will probably still visit this blog, once in a while, as a great source of information and photos.
      Good luck!

  5. colinsberry says:

    Hello again Adrie

    Yes, I see it has Google’s fingerprints all over it – or should that be tentacle imprints, despite there being no formal link-up between WordPress and Google that I am aware of. That in itself is enough to make me wary.

    I’ll keep the comments option open for as long as possible, but would not be surprised to find myself shut out of my own blog, such is the increasing extent of control-freakery where the online world is concerned. Forget about the touching concern for our security: they are all looking for connectedness and the commercial spin-off that goes with it, needless to say. They want the world to be one big social network. No thanks. I like a degree of privacy and I like to be in control of my own opt-in decisions.

    It’s been interesting hearing from you Adrie. While we differ in our standpoints, I have been hugely impressed with your eye for detail.

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  8. Gary Strecker says:

    So let’s suppose, hypothetically, that Joe Nickell’s and Walter McCrone’s assessment of just the blood (and not the body imprints, which I am not willing to concede) were correct. Let’s say that red ocher and diluted vermilion were used to paint blood. How could we know if such painting was original to each ‘wound’ site, or traced over existing blood? Let’s say that the original intent was to exhibit this 14′ sheet as Jesus’ shroud. The imprints of the body were already a mystery to a medieval crowd, but could be seen from a distance. But the blood, perhaps, needed to be, at least in the artist’s mind, enhanced. Is there a way to determine whether blood was original to each site, but that may be concealed under enhancement? And do we know that every wound site displays equally (quantitatively as well as qualitatively) the same properties as those which are obviously ‘enhanced’ because of the brightness of the red, which should have darkened over time? I would appreciate the best answer, but all are welcome, if there is any interest.
    Gary Strecker

  9. colinsberry says:

    Correct me if I am wrong, but you seem to be saying “OK, it’s been touched up. So what? It could still be genuine. Prove to me that there are not the remnants of real 1st century blood under various additions, even things as mundane as medieval artists’ pigments.”

    Obviously I cannot. Such an exercise would be hard enough if there were free access to unlimited TS material. Thanks to the presumption that the shroud is holy, or might be holy, or could just conceivably be holy pending conclusive evidence that it is not holy, then we are prevented from testing the a priori assumptions that prevent us from testing … if you see what I mean. Arguing with the authenticists is becoming more and more like arguing with flat-earthers. It all comes down to insistent demands to provide incontestable evidence, nay proof that it is 1st century, and even radiocarbon dating is then fair game for the “I challenge you to prove me wrong” tendency (invisible re-weaving etc). But I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that science does not work on that basis. Science prefers to focus attention on the genuine anomalies, the ones that yield fresh data and clues. There’s no scientific kudos to be had for constantly banging one’s head against a brick wall, for persevering with lines of enquiry that lead nowhere.

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