End-of-year brain-teaser for Shroudies: I challenge you to explain this apparent contradiction…

Hello everyone. I trust you all enjoyed the festivities so far as much as I did.  However, a surfeit of mince pies and much else besides has left this blogger in a near-vegetative state.

Consequently I shall try to  keep this posting short, hoping for some informative feedback that will  keep me awake – to say nothing of explaining things I may have overlooked.

Here’s the conundrum/brain-teaser/glaring contradiction – call it what you want.

Much has been made of the extreme superficiality of the body image on the Shroud of Turin. One well-cited estimate, albeit based on some less-than-impressive methodology – puts it as little as 200nm thick. (That’s just one 50,000th of a cm – roughly the thickness of gold leaf).

Here’s a diagram that shows how an image-bearing outer layer (yellow) might look in relation to the entire width/diameter of a linen fibre (blue)  – of which there may be some 200 or so fibres per thread.

new linen fibre cross-section cropped(As I say, “schematic” – and highly so. The individual fibres are in fact polygonal rather than circular, and the cellulose is present not as a homogeneous mass but as a series of concentric helical bands with interspersed non-crystalline material. See the (free) diagrams in a useful paper, especially as it addresses the issue of tensile strength and fibre fracture, the text of which, bar the abstract, is however behind a paywall.) In passing, beware the diagram on page 15 of Raymond Rogers FAQs, described as the ‘gross internal composition of a flax fibre’ which initially perplexed this blogger. It is not. It is a botanist’s diagram showing the internal structure of the bast fibre BUNDLES in a flax stem.

The yellow coating image-bearing layer could correspond with the  primary cell wall (PCW), according to some authors, comprising mainly celluloses and hemicelluloses  , OR  could be Rogers’  “impurity layer”. That is a question that can probably be left in abeyance for now, given that the spotlight here is on differences in relative size of core to outermost layer in particular, given  that the core is always predominantly tough old cellulose regardless of  the  chemical nature or composition of that outermost layer..

So any effect on the fibre core  should  be slight, should it not, especially as the core consists mainly of highly crystalline cellulose which is well known for its physical and chemical resistance?

So what do you make of this statement made as recently as 2010?

quote from superficiality paper 2010 cropped

From:  Microscopic and Macroscopic Characteristics of the
Shroud of Turin Image Superficiality

G. Fanti et al
Journal of Imaging Science and Technology

How can the Shroud image be described as ultra-superficial, too thin to have been formed by any conventional form of energy (thermal imprinting etc) –  having presumably negligible effect on the integrity of the fibre as a whole – only to be told that fibres that bear that image are mechanically-weakened across the entire cross-section  – so much so that they BREAK EASILY?

Is there not a glaring contradiction here? Either the image-forming process is not as superficial as we have been led to believe, and in some way affects the entire fibre – not just a superficial surface layer – OR – the above model of a linen fibre is over-simplistic, in which case more research needs to be done to discover weak points on the linen fibre that might also be compromised  by the image-forming process.  But if the latter were true, we would need to ditch a lot of the baggage that presently accompanies the alleged “superficiality” of the Shroud image.

PS: I  have deliberately avoided mentioning the L word.   Was that wise?  😉

And here’s a clue to some potential weak points in a flax fibre.

To what do the three arrows point?  Thicker, maybe, but  potential fracture locations?

To what do the three arrows point? Thicker, maybe, but potential fracture locations?

Further clue: note this fascinating observation in one of Adrie’s papers (pdf):

“Note that the ghosts are also continuous over the joints of fibre cells – also called growth nodes – which seems to suggest the ghosts weren’t (only) primary cell walls. The thickness of the ghosts (200-600 nm) perhaps also precludes that they only consist of the primary cell wall of the linen. More recent experiments estimated the thickness of the colored layer to be 200 nm +/- 200
nm; a primary cell wall would be only about 200 nm thick.”

Thanks Adrie. Yours is one of the few informative statements I have been able to find so far in this important aspect of flax fibre microstructure, especiallly as it related to Rogers’ “ghosts” – to say nothing of that allegedly  “impossible to account for”  image superficiality.


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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5 Responses to End-of-year brain-teaser for Shroudies: I challenge you to explain this apparent contradiction…

  1. Adrie says:

    Thanks Colin. I found the 200 nm +/- 200 nm range here.

  2. colinsberry says:

    Well spotted, Adrie, since I had tacked that reference to your splendid paper onto the end as an afterthought (having discovered your focus on growth nodes, aka dislocations, through googling).

    I shall be taking my new microscope out of its box today and start to explore its capabilities re testing the scorch hypothesis. I shall be focusing (literally!) on the nodes, given the possibility that they may carry a distinctive signature for scorch damage, more so than the internodal region. Nodes may be where “most of the action” is, perhaps because they are the sites of cell-cell junctions, with less in the way of crystalline, fracture-resistant cellulose, and maybe more cementing hemicelluloses, pectins(?) and – most of all- the enigmatic lignin – all of which are more thermally-sensitive and prone to damage.

    We are told the Shroud image is incredibly superficial, but that does not (in my view) mean that the energy that produced it is highly superficial in its effects everywhere on something that is not simply a continuous uninterrupted filament. Cotton seed hairs have no junctions – i.e nodes – being elongated single cells – but that is not so for linen, making the latter a far more complex entity where potential scorch damage is concerned.

  3. Adrie says:

    Incidentally, I was preparing this consideration, about cellulose having been affected in image fibers without having being colored, and about the increased brittleness of the nodes in image fibers:

    In an e-mail (cited by Carreira, p. 30) Rogers wrote: “I studied the chemical kinetics of the impurity materials and concluded that it was improbable that the impurities had been scorched by heat or any radiation source: the crystal structure of the flax image fibers was no more defective than non-image fibers.” This is incorrect reasoning: as you have often said, Colin, “impuritiy materials” (starch, hemicellulose, lignin) may have been scorched at a temperature at which cellulose is not scorched yet (doesn’t lose hydrogen and make cross links yet). At that temperature the cellulose may have only recrystallised: heat/warmth makes water escape from the cellulose and makes dislocations/defects in the crystal structure move to the edges of the crystal. Thus, the bulk of the crystal becomes more perfect and less brittle (this is called annealing in metallurgy). But the edges of the cellulose crystal, where the crystal is connected to its surroundings and where the dislocations concentrate, would become more brittle. This would be not only at the surrounding non-crystalline regions and at the (scorched) linen of the cylindrical primary cell wall, but also at the cell joints/‘growth nodes’, I think.

    Also loss of water may have rendered the image fiber more brittle and make it break more easily, as linen “is a very durable, strong fabric, and one of the few that are stronger wet than dry” (Wikipedia). It seems possible/likely that a sealing coating of retrograded starch (end of this comment) still more or less protects the non-image fibers from drying/aging. Antonacci noted “the soft, pliable and excellent condition of the Shroud (a condition confirmed by STURP)” in his Reply to Rogers, p. 3. On image fibers, which look more corroded than non-image fibers (Adler), this sealing would have been disturbed/crackled by the image formation process, allowing water to escape faster from the linen, either immediately through heat that not scorched the celluse (at a glass transition temperature, well below 300C) or while aging after image formation.

    I’m very curious what you will discover with the microscope. Congratulations on the purchase. Have fun!

  4. colinsberry says:

    Yup, a linen fibre is a chain, Adrie, a chain of separate adhering cells, and a chain we know is only as strong as its weakest link. So it hardly makes sense for miraculists to bang on about the (conventional) science-defying superficiality of the Shroud image, while turning a blind eye to “minor” effects elsewhere – like weakening and fracture at the nodes.

    Some might say that the authenticists have developed a handy tunnel vision for the strongest (internodal) part of the linen fibre, while displaying a convenient blind spot for the weakest. I have no time (and if the truth be told) a degree of contempt for “trophy findings” that merely serve a religious agenda. Religion should be able to look after itself – without the need for agenda-driven ‘pseudoscience’….

  5. Pingback: Important aspect of flax fiber microstructure and Rogers’ “ghosts” « Shroud of Turin Blog

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