ColinB’s cunning plan for re-dating the Shroud of Turin

thumb nail moi krakow 2012 labelled

Sorry about the mugshot. Needed somewhere for link to image in sidebar.


Step 1: Obtain the go-ahead from the Shroud’s custodians to repeat that contested radiocarbon dating. Assure them that all samples will be taken from the  portion of linen that has the less photogenic DORSAL view.

Shroud, dorsal view, courtesy of Shroud Scope (Durante 2002)

Step 2: select 20 sampling points at random from the NON-IMAGE area of the Shroud. Cut out samples according to a predetermined protocol that CANNOT be altered by ANYONE on the appointed day, no matter where he or she considers themselves to be on the scale of infallibility.

20 samples removed from locations chosen at random that do not intrude on any image areas

Step 3: Rediscover the medieval techniques for invisible repair. Make good the damage such that the Shroud is indistinguishable from the original, even to the trained eye:

Shroud restored to original condition using that ‘invisible reweaving’  😉

Oh, and here’s the finishing touch – a comment I made yesterday:


Glad to hear you say that Hugh. Of course there are those who say they would reject the results of a new round of testing if they came back with the same answer, citing “contamination”, and claiming there is no clean-up procedure that is guaranteed to separate original from acquired carbon.

Actually there is, if you see my recent post

Solubilisation of cellulosic material (paper, linen etc) in blue cuprammonium hydroxide solution, prepared as shown here by dissolving solid copper hydroxide* in ammonia solution. The resulting clear dispersion (not a true solution) is then injected into dilute acid, whereupon cellulose fibres are regenerated, leaving most impurities in the the supernatant.
*In fact, it says “copper carbonate” on the label, which is actually basic copper carbonate, i.e. an equimolar mixture of copper carbonate and copper hydroxide, CuCO3.Cu(OH)2 plus water of hydration. It behaves the same towards ammonia as pure copper hydroxide, i.e. giving a deep blue solution of cellulose-dissolving cuprammonium hydroxide, aka “Shirley’s Reagent”.

It involves solubilization of the cellulose fibres of the linen in a cuprammonium hydroxide reagent, or one of the alternatives listed, and then regenerating them in a large volume of dilute acid.

Strong alkali could be used at some point to ensure removal of lipid and protein. One would expect the re-precipitated cellulose to be highly pure – as could be verified by chemical analysis (it should be 99.9% minimum anhydroglucose). Since there’s no way that new cellulose could be acquired by contamination (other than that crazy decision to wear cotton gloves, but cotton and linen are easily distinguishable under the microscope) then only the most extreme diehard could claim that a modern contaminant was able to survive that kind of ferocious treatment.

PS:  Oops. I’m forgetting that new cellulose could have been acquired by our old friend invisible reweaving, but I’m assuming that a new round of testing would take multiple samples selected at random, such that any re-weaving here and there would be detected in a failure to obtain a Gaussian distribution of values tightly clustered about a mean date.

Will the re-dating of the Shroud give the distribution on the left, or the one on the right?Age of each of the 20 samples, as determined by surviving C-14 content,  plotted along the horizontal axis. 

Update:  Dan Porter has made this post the subject of his latest posting. (Strange choice of title). Here’s something else I found strange:  “No, Colin, you won’t see much of that (re. the problem of contamination) . But there are many who will object because they feel that the Resurrection changed the effective age of the cloth.”

Well, I became interested (or rather re-interested) in the Shroud a year ago, when the media was once again full of quotations that the Shroud somehow “defied scientific understanding”.  So I shan’t be losing sleep if there are those who prefer to believe it defies scientific principles. It’s a free country. People are allowed to believe what they want.

However,  let’s take a brief look at what would need to happen for a 1st century Shroud to give a “false” medieval dating. How could it become endowed with too much C-14?  Either its original C-14 would have to stop decaying to nitrogen, for a while at any rate, like 12 or 13 centuries or so, and then resume its radioactive decay, which would be a miracle, OR extra C-14 would somehow need to be produced in situ to replace that which was being lost. The latter topping up  would requires finding two neutrons from somewhere for adding to ordinary C-12 atoms, or, alternatively,  mimicking what happens in the troposphere and finding just one neutron, adding that to a nitrogen atom. But free neutrons are not just lying around on the surface of the planet looking for a new home – they are safely locked away in the nuclei of atoms, allowing protons to cohabit.  So the second scenario of neutron addition must also be deemed to be a miracle.

At a quantum level, nothing’s impossible of course. But if the Shroud is undergoing all kinds of quantum-tunnelling effects that defy the normal laws of physics, the ones that prevent neutrons from shuttling between atoms, and if the process is still continuing to this day, creating new nuclides, radioactive ones too maybe,  then here’s my advice to the Turin custodians.  Act now, before the Health and Safety people pay you a visit. Surround the Shroud with a concrete sarcophagus, like that reactor at Chernobyl. Without protection, that Shroud might pose a  radiation risk to the citizens of Turin… A temporary radiation hotspot in a 1st century Palestine cave is one thing…  😉

Update:  this comment has just appeared:

November 15, 2012 at 7:06 am | #4

Collin’s attitude seems to be a constant in Shroud “studies”. He doesn’t he provide a comprehensive way for free and open scrutinization of his own results but at the same time, suggests new tests with material to be released by others (in this case the Catholic Church). Sad to say, but this is a constant with anyone owing any physical evidence: HR image, fibers, whatever…..We have also recently learned that the raw figures of the C14 tests have been released to the authors of a documentary. Will they release those figures for open and free discussion? Surely not. Perhaps at some moments, they were too naive BUT being a Catholic myself, I fully support (even more, I am proud of) the Church’s current position at this point of not contributing to add confussion, discussions on media and improve the professional careers of Shroud stars selling the same over and over throughout the years.

Could somebody translate please?  (You just can’t get the archangels these days…) I have to know what it is I am supposed to have done, or not done, before I’m able to retreat to the barricades…

Update: here’s an earlier comment on that same thread, from Stephen E. Jones BSc (Biol), Grad Dip Ed. His words are in italics, my response in the standard font I’m using right now:

November 15, 2012 at 3:53 am | #2

Colin Berry’s call for a new C14 test is a tacit admission that the 1988 dating was wrong.

There is nothing tacit about it. Nor is it an “admission” (the kind of loaded term to which propagandist Stephen E.Jones is much given). One does not rely on a single rectangular 7 rectangle to date a 4.4 x 1.1 metres cloth. And it’s Jones’s view, not mine that the 1988 dating was wrong. The answer look perfect reasonable to me, given it corresponds closely to the first authenticated reports of the Shroud in W.Europe, i.e. its display in the Lirey church circa 1355.

My call for a new C-14 test is based on the poor statistical precision – one that has allowed the authenticists to question the accuracy of the data, to build mountains out of molehills.  It also provided an opportunity for one or two self-selected STURP scientists to showcase their chemical virtuosity and thence to trash the dating (based on even smaller non-representative samples, i.e. single threads, on the principle of anything they – the fabric snippers can do –  I can do even worse!) .

There is a difference between precision and accuracy. A result can be precise without being accurate, or it can be accurate without being precise.

I believe the radiocarbon date to be reasonably accurate, to within a century or two,  but not precise. That still makes the Shroud medieval – not of the Biblical era.

 We have such an abundance of evidence that the Shroud existed many centuries  (ed. italics in original) before the “mediaeval … AD 1260-1390″ C14 date, that if the Shroud was redated and it still came out medieval it would only confirm that there was something fundamentally wrong with dating ancient burial shrouds in general and a Shroud whose former occupant, Jesus, was resurrected in particular.

I’ve seen some of that so-called evidence, and have devoted at least two previous postings to it, notably the Pray Codex, that obscure Hungarian manuscript that is supposed to show poker holes on the Shroud IN THE TOMB (clear logical  and/or logistical faux pas there, some might think ) and on the face cloth (the grandly named Sudarium of Oviedo) that also has a radiocarbon dating that is far too young (700AD or thereabouts as I recall)

Jones’s idea of evidence is anything that can be shaped and moulded to fit his desired predetermined conclusion. But that’s not science. It is polemics, spin-doctoring, propaganda and no doubt many other unflattering terms which I could dredge up from a thesaurus if sufficiently bothered. But I’m not bothered. The world is full of single issue agenda-pushers, all professing specialized knowledge, all affecting certainty as to their convictions. Would it be unwise to suggest that  to be the affliction, indeed disease of the modern age – this brow-beating tendency, this true-believer internet-aided blitzing of society week in, week out, year in, year out with the same monotonous partisan line. Probably not, since I could  be accused of the same, at least by those unfamiliar with my ‘sciencebuzz’ mission statement, but NECESSARY, definitely, if one has the slightest interest in the kind of world that we bequeath to our children and grandchildren.

 Because even if the Shroud is authentic, it is likely that a new C14 dating would yield a date somewhere between AD30 and 1350…

How can Jones be so certain that the answer will be “somewhere between” 1st and 14th century. Exactly midway? Or maybe just a little bit closer to 1st century?

 … due to the combined factors of younger carbon having become an integral part of the fabric and therefore unable to be removed by pretreatment,

I have addressed the issue of contamination by more modern, non-radioactive  carbon-12. Solubilise, or more correctly disperse/disaggregate those extensively-hydrogen-bonded cellulose fibres, releasing any associated impurities, then allow the fibres to regenerate, e.g. under acidic conditions. It’s akin to recrystallization, the time-honoured method by which chemists purify single chemicals to a state of virtual homogeneity, uncontaminated by inclusions etc that do not fit into the regenerated crystal lattice.

 …  and radiation emitted as a byproduct of Jesus’ resurrection when His body changed state (1Cor 15:50-52; Php 3:21), a new C14 dating would probably satisfy no one.

What radiation? Which part of the electromagnetic spectrum? If one is going to slip in a hint of science, then one has an obligation to be scientifically precise. Otherwise one is no more scientific than to propose there are alien worlds out there where the Jedi Knights fight the Dark Side with light sabres. Ultraviolet radiation?  Name me one source of ultraviolet radiation that is not an incandescent object at thousands of degrees C that would char or vaporise any organic matter – crucified corpses included….

  Pro-authenticists would point to how close the date was to the 1st century and anti-authenticists would point to how close the date was to the 14th century!

What is the answer were (again) to be 1260  to 1390   at the 95% level of confidence, i.e. p< 0.05. I confidently predict it will give the same mean value, +/- 100 years, but with a smaller variance about the mean.  Admittedly that’s based on looking at just some of the scientific and statistical data, with scarcely a glance at Jones’s collection of carefully-selected  museum specimens (Pray ms, Sudarium etc etc). But then some of us are mere humans (not super-humans able to see the whole picture, as Stephen E. Jones can).

 And from the Vatican’s perspective what would be in it for them? Have their priceless relic further “cut up” (to use Colin’s term for his excuse why no museum would supply a postage stamp sized sample of medieval 3:1 herringbone twill visually identical to the Shroud as a control in the 1988 dating) and then endure decades of controversy in its aftermath, not to mention in its planning.

There is a case of mistaken identity here. I have made no “excuses” on behalf of any museum. He is thinking of someone else.

 As cardinals and bishops they no doubt already have a very busy day job: administering a church, than to spend it pandering to the whims of scientific types who blew their first attempt at C14 dating in 1988 and now wanted another one.

It was not the “scientific types” in the radiocarbon labs, whose 21 names went on the published Nature paper. It was a shady so-called “scientific type” who insisted on a single sample, snipped from a corner, whose name did NOT go on the paper. Shame on the radiocarbon team leaders, who should have staged an immediate walk-out. Maybe they felt that some kind of answer was better than no answer at all. They failed to anticipate the opening they gave to the authenticists not just to trash the carbon-dating, but the methodology, the integrity of the scientists, and indeed the credibility and reputation of science.  They even make documentaries, exposing the alleged fraud and conspiracy (but then, nobody ever got rich by exposing non-fraud and non-conspiracy).  Why are those labs not INSISTING on having new samples for a repeat analysis,  requiring but a tiny gesture of contrition on the part of the Shroud custodians  and their so-called ‘scientific advisors’ for having fobbed  off  the three labs with a corner specimen? Who appointed those so-called scientific advisors who lurk in the shadows? Right. So it’s for the Shroud custodians to do the decent thing, instead of the new owners – the Vatican – periodically displaying  a “holy relic” to million of trusting souls  that is looking increasingly secular and unholy with each passing decade…

 Remember that the current Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was Chair of the Pontifical Academy of Science over the time of the 1988 C14 dating, and so he has an unparalleled understanding of the issues.

Shame he was not in attendance at the over-attended snip session that ended in a departure from the agreed sampling protocol. If the-then Cardinal Ratzinger really had an unparalleled understanding of the issues,then he too would have staged a walk-out, indeed have initiated it.

(Why is someone who boasts his BSc so keen to lay the blame at the door of the three radiocarbon labs when he knows they were fobbed off with that corner rectangle?)

 As a Christian who believes in the Shroud’s authenticity and the Biblical teaching on the sovereignty of God, I believe that the 1988 C14 dating fiasco was no accident. Quite clearly if the Shroud is authentic (as the preponderance of the evidence overwhelmingly points to); and God wanted the 1988 C14 dating to come out as 1st century AD to accurately reflect that fact; which to many, if not most, uncommitted people would prove that Jesus did really exist and really was crowned with thorns, flogged, crucified, died, was entombed and resurrected, as the Gospels attest; then God could have made sure that no human incompetence, prejudice or schemes would have prevented that happening.

But as Pascal in the 17th century observed, God seems to have arranged it so that (paraphrased): 1) there is enough evidence for a Christian to have reasonable grounds for his/her faith; and 2) for a non-Christian to have no excuse for his/her unbelief; but 3) there is not enough evidence to force a non-Christian to believe in Christ against his/her will.

Stephen E. Jones

How fortunate we are to have someone like Stephen E. Jones in our midst, an interlocuter  who is able to interpret the mind of God for us lesser mortals… Who would have thought that God – well, Jones’s God – would move in such mysterious ways – like allowing someone to graduate in science but who, later in his career, with tender minds under his charge, would flaunt that qualification, while at the same time heaping bile and contempt on scientists and their methodology, holding them to account for a fiasco (as he puts it) that was not of their making, intermixing objective science  with magic and miracles?


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 ColinB’s cunning plan for re-dating the Shroud of Turin

  1. Hugh Farey says:

    Ho ho. Just because Margaret of Austria (really? Never heard of her) repaired (or didn’t) the shroud invisibly, i doubt if its present owners would agree to your wholesale moth-eating, even if they could repair it just as well. However, I understand that nothing like that size of sample would be needed; wouldn’t a single thread or two be enough? If an inch of so of weft thread (barely visible on the image side of the shroud) were taken (and repaired, of course) from your sites, wouldn’t that be enough?

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