More thoughts on the fragility of image-bearing fibres on the Shroud of Turin

(This is a follow-on from my immediately preceding post)

It’s one thing to invoke an impurity layer to account for image superficiality – or, alternatively – my preferred explanation – the primary cell wall (pcw).  (See two of today’s comments* on the site)

A layer of dehydrated/oxidized/pyrolysed polysaccharides and/or lignin does not need to be thick to be easily detected by its yellow or brown coloration, even if that layer were a mere 20o nanometres  thick (1/50,000th of a millimetre). That, after all, is the thickness of gold leaf as used for gilding and/or illuminating manuscripts  – which in expert hands  can produce an end-result that is virtually indistinguishable from the reflective face of a solid gold ingot viewed face-on.

However, it’s a supposition too far to invoke that same surface layer in attempting to account for fibre fracture. For a fibre to break, the entire width/diameter of the fibre needs to break.

Nodes on flax fibre -  mechamically-weak points that I propose as preferred sites for fracture in image-imprinted linen fibres on the Shroud of Turin

Nodes on a single flax fibre – mechanically-weak points that I propose as preferred sites for fracture in image-imprinted linen fibres on the Shroud of Turin

While the structure of that fibre at the nodes/dislocations – described as “weak points” – may not be known in detail, it seems reasonably certain that there must be at least some continuity in the cellulose fibres through those nodes if the fibre is to be reasonably sufficiently strong to fulfill its botanical role – i.e. offering stiffness and support.

However, I have seen references to there being a reversal of the helical configuration of the cellulose fibrils at the nodes.

“The cross markings, known as nodes, on flax fibres give them their characteristics microscopic appearance. There may be up to 800 nodes in a single flax fibre cell. Nodes are fissures in the cell walls and indicate a change in the spiral direction of the fibrils which constitute cell walls. Spiralling imparts strength to the cell and hence, to the flax fibre. The polygonal cross section of the flax fibre cell is typical of most plant cells.”

e.g.  Ritu Pandey (2009)

So while there may be continuity of cellulose at the nodes, there may be weak points due to an interruption in the packing and crystallinity of the cellulose – making it especially vulnerable to thermal or other energy – relative to the bulk cellulose in the internodal regions. One could speculate that the internodal regions have a supporting grommet-like collar of hemicelluloses and woody lignin which stiffen joints that might otherwise flex excessively when subjected to mechanical shear forces, as exist when flax plants are battered by wind.  One could speculate further that the image-imprinting mechanism degrades that nodal cement in the same way that it degrades the surface layer of the fibres elsewhere, and in so doing exposes semi- or non-crystalline cellulose that is then degraded as well, causing spot breaks in the cellulose chains and fibrils, causing the entire fibre to fracture across its entire width.

It will be interesting to see whether nodal fracture can be produced in model systems subjected to thermal or other insults, and then to see whether similar breaks can be detected in the image-bearing regions of the Shroud, ones that are absent, or largely so, in non-image-bearing regions. The latter, if found, could serve as an important signature or indeed clue as to the mechanism and source of input energy that produced the Shroud image.


Comments from

*  Hugh Farey,  January 1, 2013 at 7:57 am | #1

What a magnificent collection. Thank you, Yannick.
Isn’t there always a however? Fanti, Botella et al.’s paper ‘Superficiaity,’ quoting Jumper, specifically mentions: “the linen fibers seen on the body-image tapes are shorter and more fractured than those from nonimage areas.” This suggests that the material of the cloth itself, not just the ‘impurity layer’ was affected by the image forming mechanism.

anoxie  January 1, 2013 at 8:27 am | #2

This is an interesting point.

The aging and mechanical properties of the flax fibers may be directly influenced by the integrity of the pcw.

The reacting/impurity layer may be thicker/deeper at dislocations.

PS: here’s another image I have found showing flax fibres with very prominent nodes. These are shorter fibres, used in papermaking (bank notes etc) but flax all the same. Link to source.


Update: comment from ‘anoxie’ on

January 1, 2013 at 12:44 pm | #1

“I may have missed something but I thought Adrie’s work pointed there was no evidence of starch on the shroud, but i may have the wrong version of her work.

The reference to Rogers’  ‘ghosts’, at least in my posting, and in addition the quoted passage from Adrie, referred only to ghosts as a physical entity -i.e.  that which remains behind on the adhesive tape when the image fibre is plucked off leaving its “overcoat” behind. OK, so Rogers proposed that the ghost was the image imprinted on a starch impurity layer – with or without 1st century processing aids (saponins etc). Personally I think that was a hypothesis too far – inasmuch as it has been done to death with scarcely any supporting evidence – and that the superficial layer was far more likely to have been the primary cell wall (pcw) as proposed by others. Repeat: read ghosts to mean purely the adhesive-embedded surface layer with imprinted image – precise chemical composition a matter for speculation…


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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6 Responses to More thoughts on the fragility of image-bearing fibres on the Shroud of Turin

  1. anoxie says:

    Ok for this clarification. But Adrie wrote in a comment :
    ” 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 ”
    Is it a personnal view or a quote ?

    Anyway, speculations will go on as long as we don’t have definite arguments.

    Meanwhile studying the microstruture of flax fibers and dislocation bands maybe more productive.

    Happy new year !

    • colinsberry says:

      WordPress seems to be playing up today. My reply to anoxie’s comment has disappeared from the list of Recent Comments, so I’m posting this, now Comment No.3, in the hope of correcting the fault.

      Success: posting this has returned my previous comment to the list. I’ve noticed before that “Recent Comments” can temporarily drop the most recent comment, here and on Dan Porter’s site. There’s presumably a conflict or some other software fault somewhere that needs sorting, probably to do with using the email inbox system for managing comments or those “pingbacks” that I personally find surplus to requirements. WordPress please note.

    • Adrie says:

      Hi anoxie,
      In my article Internal selvedge in starched and dyed temple mantle – No invisible repair in Turin Shroud – No Maillard reaction I describe the evidence for starch on the Shroud (par. 2.2) and how it may have got there and why (par. 1.1 and 2.5, with confirmation by the extraordinary seam, par. 4.3) and how it may have retrograded twice (par. 4.2.3).
      Starch retrogrades when it is allowed to cool down slowly and rest after having been gelatinised (e.g. boiled in water). It is insoluble in water: water hardly gets into it at room temperature because of its semi-crystallinity. On the Shroud, in retrograding twice, the starch coating may have got the shape of a continuous insoluble film around the surface fibers (par. 4.2.1). Polishing the cloth with a glass ball would have made the coating even more dense and waterproof (par. 2.3.2 Permanent Madder fluorescence). It is said that “The Shroud cloth is tightly woven, it is relatively thick, and it does not readily absorb water” (Scientific Method, p. 32).

  2. colinsberry says:

    Good morning anoxie (good of you to look in).

    I’ll leave it to Adrie to comment on your first point re retrograded starch – despite my being closely acquainted with it from a previous research project on enzyme-resistant starch.

    When I started this topic, quoting the multi-author Fanti et al paper, my thoughts were more on image superficiality in quantitative terms – notably that 200nm thickness – or as Adrie has pointed out – 200+/- 200 nm. The chemical nature of the substrate – PCW as against Rogers’ largely hypothetical starch coating – was not in my mind. What was in my mind was the insistence of Fanti, Di Lazzaro and others that an image layer that was a mere 200nm thick was not explainable in terms of conventional energy sources and required exotic energy inputs – corona discharges, coherent short wave energy from uv excimer lasers etc. I initially looked at ‘thermostencilling’ with infrared/visible radiation, using charcoal as a photosensitizer, but quickly dropped that in favour of plain old heat conduction from a hot template, zero air gap (stiill my position). But since starch coatings have been invoked (endlessly and indeed monotonously),largely irrelevant in terms of Maillard reactions, and of dubious relevance in terms of simple pyrolysis, I’d simply say this. Neither Rogers nor his modern day disciples, one in particular, should ever have embraced the starch coating idea without first marshalling convincing arguments why the PCW is not the prime candidate as superficial image-bearing layer.

    All this banging-on endlessly about starch is seriously distracting and seriously tedious. What’s more I believe it to be agenda-driven, and as such is the thing I truly abhor – bent science, aka pseudoscience. No prizes for guessing the agenda (clue – it requires an a priori rejection of the radiocarbon dating, it requires belief in a 1st century AD Palestine provenance, and much else besides when you add in the “blood” story). It requires moving heaven and earth to discredit the radiocarbon dating (as Raymond Rogers attempted to move heaven and earth with that laughable re-weaving/end-to-end splicing/re-dying fantasy). What an appalling way to end an otherwise respectable scientific career, the latter testing the shelf-life and storage characteristics of chemical high explosives (someone had to do it).

  3. Hugh Farey says:

    And another thing…
    There seem to be three possible coatings (and combinations thereof), and I don’t think most scientists make clear which one (or more) they are using. To clarify:
    a) the flax fibres were coated with something before they were spun into threads, perhaps as part of the purification process. If this were the case, and the image forming mechanism is strong enough to affect this layer, but not the rest of the fibre, I would expect the image forming mechanism to colour all around the fibres it affected, probably quite deeply into the thread, and by conduction along the coating, be visible on the back of the cloth. (The PCW hypothesis would produce a similar result). The appearance would look a bit like cloth does after it has been kept in an oven for a while – rather uniform.
    b) the threads were treated after they had been spun, perhaps as part of the weaving process. If this were the case, then ‘interior’ fibres, or the interior parts of fibres if they disappear into the middle of a thread would not be affected by the mechanism, but the image would appear at least deep into the valleys between the warp threads. It could also appear on the back by capillary action.
    c) the whole cloth was treated after being woven, perhaps as part of a washing process. In this case, the solutes appear prominently on the external faces of the cloth, and less, possibly much less, in the middle. This seems to be the basis of Rogers’s ammonia experiments, which were done on whole cloth.

    I too am not crazy about starch, as I don’t find it reacts as well as plain linen to heat or chemicals. Does it depend what sort of starch you use? I have wheat flour and maize flour. I was going to try mashed potato…

  4. colinsberry says:

    Good evening Hugh. May I deal with your last paragraph first, and perhaps ignore everything that precedes it (no disrespect intended).

    You see, I think the ‘starch story’ to be a total diversion from the relevant science re the Shroud image. I believe that story (fantasy?) came about because a chemist – and a highly competent one at that – tried to take on too much, and strayed into areas outside his expertise. He failed to consult with scientists in other relevant specialities. Had he done so, and consulted with botanists about the strippable image layer, he might have picked up on the existence of something called the ‘primary cell wall’ (PCW). I have read quite a lot of Rogers’ work, and secondary reports thereof, and do you know – I cannot find a single scrap of evidence that Rogers was aware of its existence as the most superficial component of the bast (stem) fibres of flax. That’s why he tried to explain strippability in terms of an acquired layer of impurities – but was content to give second-hand evidence for the presence of “traces” of starch e.g. from the work of McCrone etc, and what’s more, starch from image regions, when he should have concentrated on non-image regions that should have had more (unreacted) starch according to his hypothesis.

    Sorry, I can’t be bothered to think about starch or saponins etc etc when every single bast fibre from flax has a primary cell wall that is choc- a- bloc full of chemically reactive , easily-pyrolysable non-cellulosic hemicelluloses, lignin etc. If Rogers were here today i would tell him to his face to drop his fixation with starch, saponin and the rest of Pliny’s ragbag of 1st century AD processing additives etc until he had conclusively proved that the imaging did NOT involve the carbohydrates etc of the PCW.

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