Why is the Shroud image so superficial, half-tone and striated? Is it on raised ribs of primary cell wall hemicellulose?

I posted this comment earlier today to an older  (September 1) thread on Dan Porter’s shroudstory.com site which appeared under the title: Paper Chase: An Alternate Hypothesis for the Image Color. It begins by quoting Porter (bold italics) who in turn quotes the late Raymond Rogers.

October 27, 2013 at 9:15 am | #14

Reply | Quote

Here is why you must read the (Rogers) paper:

“I believe that a combination of relatively rapidly decomposing impurities on the surface of the cloth with transfer/diffusion of catalytic compounds from a body, as discussed by Pellicori, could explain the observations on the chemistry and appearance of the image on the Shroud. It should explain the shallow penetration of the image, the fact that the color did not penetrate more deeply at presumed contact points, its “half-tone” appearance, and its predominantly discontinuous distribution.”

My response:

Yes, but with all due respect to a gifted chemist sadly no longer with us, Raymond Rogers seems to have had little or no understanding of the flax/linen surface onto which the superficial Shroud image was imprinted, whether by natural processes, or miraculously or by forgers. He describes the hemicelluloses of linen as an “impurity”, despite being an intrinsic and major component of the superficial primary cell wall (PCW), and then substitutes that conjectural man-made impurity coating (starch, saponins etc) onto which the Shroud image was imprinted.

All of this I have said on numerous previous occasions. The reason for posting this comment is to provide a link to a schematic diagram of the PCW I have just come across, one that shows some fascinating detail (caveat: possibly conjectural) re the relationship between the chemically-reactive hemicellulose (shown in blue) and the underlying cellulose fibrils.

Note the superficial ribs of hemicellulose, shown in blue, that may be the prime target for the imaging process that produced the Shroud of Turin

Note the superficial ribs of hemicellulose, shown in blue, that may be the prime target for the imaging process that produced the Shroud of Turin


Note: that’s a specific link to the above graphic, just one item in the much larger and splendid McGraw Hill Botany Online Visual Resources Library.

Note the way that the hemicellulose forms a series of interrupted striations on the surface of the cellulose fibrils. Then imagine an image being thermochemically imprinted by some means onto that surface. It is not difficult to see how the resulting image might exhibit both   half-tone character AND striations as reported per Shroud image if there were selective pyrolysis (chemical dehydration to yellow or tan products) of those interrupted hemicellulose bands or segments, leaving the cellulose relatively intact.

It may be time to restart those kitchen experiments. It could start with attempts to strip off the outermost PCW layer of cells selectively, or even the hemicelluloses only, and see whether the surface then resists thermochemical dehydration (aka “scorching” ;-).

Strategies? There are physical means, e.g. stripping with adhesive tape, freeze-thaw cycles, or possibly chemical ones too, though I don’t under-estimate the difficulties. It will be interesting to compare linen with cotton, since one might anticipate some differences (the linen PCW has only to make contact with other internal cells of the flax stem’s bast fibres, so can/may be somewhat fragile, while the cotton PCW on those hairy seed bolls is in direct contact with outside air, so might need to be thicker and more robust, easier to see and possibly imprint, but harder to strip off).

In the longer term, it might be interesting to see whether those hemicellulose segments, if disposed as per diagram, can be selectively stained histochemically, and detected (if present) under light microscopy of flax/linen fibres, and compared with high magnification/HD photographs of the Shroud fibres. Does anyone know if the latter are available, and/or whether they show a striation pattern comparable to the hemicellulose in that schematic diagram?

Recommended reading (no need to download the pdf – simply scroll down to a facsimile of the as-is paper) : 


Update: Monday 09:15

My comment has been elevated to a posting on Dan Porter’s site. Responses to comments will appear here to maintain the archive, so to speak. The hot link to the comment number will take the reader back to the comment to which I was responding (there being little point in duplicating everything).

First comment: (see hotlink #2)

October 28, 2013 at 5:20 am | #2

There’s been a misunderstanding, one that arose after proposing that a Shroud image of medieval provenance may have represented a Templar (Jacques de Molay?) who had been slow-roasted to death on the banks of the Seine in 1914. But I thought I had made it clear that it would have been a heated effigy, made in metal or plaster that had been used to scorch linen, not a real person, living or dead.

I’ve been having a re-read of Luigi Garlaschelli’s paper*, which I initially found a bit off-putting for reasons that now look somewhat trivial. In fact there’s a lot of very good science there, tucked away among all the arts and crafts detail. Note that while he used real subjects from which to obtain his powder imprints, subsequently baked in an oven to get chemical etching, he was forced to use a bas relief template for the head. That he says was made from Plaster of Paris (it would have been nice to have seen a photograph, if only to have judged the fairness or otherwise of Thibault Heimburger’s critique re inferior 3D-ness).

I had previously described two ways of getting a thermal imprint onto linen – one from a charcoal drawing with “thermostencilling” using radiant heat, selectively absorbed by the carbon, and a second by direct contact imprinting – hot metal or maybe ceramic onto cloth (“simple scorch”) . But the more I think about it, the more I consider that Luigi’s indirect method, with cold powder imprinting (“frottage”) followed crucially by baking, is the more likely “forger’s” technology, producing a fuzzier end product, but surprisingly by employing what was probably in essence the same carbohydrate-dehydration chemistry. Even the final STURP summary makes brief reference to the ability of acid (sulphuric) to produce a chemically-assisted dehydration of linen carbohydrates to get a yellow discoloration.

I hope this makes sense, being written while a howling gale outside is stripping all the trees of their autumn leaves.


* Abstract:

The Shroud of Turin, although carbon-dated between 1260 and 1390 C.E., is believed by many to be the real burial cloth of Jesus on the basis of other evidence. Part of the controversy arises from the fact that it has proven very difficult to explain just how the image was generated and to achieve a good imitation of the Shroud by simple means. The faint image of a crucified man has pseudonegative properties, is superficial, contains three-dimensional information and consists of a discoloration of the top cellulose fibers of the linen. The authors present now a simple technique, which may explain how the image could have originated from the work of a medieval artist. Furthermore, the authors were able to obtain a good replica of the Shroud of Turin at a 1:1 scale that possesses all the above-mentioned features and the same visual and spectroscopic properties as the original.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2352/J.ImagingSci.Technol.2010.54.4.040301

Affiliations: Luigi Garlaschelli, Dipartimento di Chimica Organica, Università di Pavia, 27100 Pavia, Italy

Publication date: 2010-07-01


Second comment (in response to someone who has this blogger marked down as a “pseudo-skeptic”):

October 28, 2013 at 9:34 am | #5

Ohio? What time of year? Is it handy for Hawaii?

That’s all this devious, covertly agenda-pushing “pseudo-skeptic” quote unquote dare say, given his wrong-headed materialist world view based on scientism, materialism and no doubt liberal dashes of other dodgy –isms, like Methodism through liberalism, reductionism, positivism, pragmatism, postmillenarianism, semicolonialism; any one of these risks further negative-feedback, so I’ll jsimply leave a few apposite quotes from Luigi Garlaschelli’s paper which I’m presently re-reading with increasing admiration.

Re claims for the TS having a generally authentic look, he writes:

1. To satisfy the growing curiosity about the puzzling cloth, a first committee of neutral museum experts, art scholars, and forensic test specialists was appointed in 1973 by Cardinal Pellegrino. Art historians were sceptical as to the antiquity of the cloth and were rather inclined to see it as a late medieval work.

2. Re the STURP findings : The image of the Shroud is very faint … and can be discerned by the naked eye only from a couple of meters away.

3. The image contains some 3D information. …. The image seems to.lack the wrap-around lateral distortions that are to be expected from any likely interaction between a human shape and a cloth. The image has been called an orthogonal projection of a body onto a surface. (my aside: too good to be true, unless miraculously projected, but if the latter then “anatomical accuracy” becomes meaningless in a scientific sense).

…Many submicron sized particles of red ochre were found only in the image area and in the blood stains.

Although the lack of historical records , the artist’s confession reported in the 1389 memorandum, and the results of the C-14 dating all seem to rule out the possibility that the TS is the actual burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, this hypothesis might still apply to a 14th-century artifact obtained by wrapping the corpse of a crucified man. These hypotheses imply contact between the body and the cloth and some form of material transfer between them.

Further objections to the hypothesis that the Shroud is not an artifact are of course possible: for example it is a physical impossibility for blood oozing from the scalp to flow at the outer surface of the hair. Instead the whole hair mass should be matted and smeared. Moreover long hair should fall down at the sides of the face and could not possibly leave the kind of imprint one can see in the Shroud.

… a general weakness of most of the attempts to reproduce the Shroud is that they try to generate an image as we see it today, i.e. extremely faint. We believe it much more likely that an artist would have preferred to create a clearly visible picture for the veneration of worshipers. In other words we must take into account the possibility that the original image has slowly faded during the (at least) 650 years of its existence.

(Me again: as for claims for anatomical perfection):

: “…the accuracy of the anatomy of the Man of the Shroud has been debated many times. Some researchers consider it perfect and flawless, others think it looks unnatural. According to Frederick Zugibe, it may even show evidence that Jesus suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome, a rare hereditary disease having among its symptoms elongated limbs, long spidery fingers and a long thin face. Since the image is fuzzy and ruined by burns, it is very doubtful whether accurate anthropometric measurements are possible (for example, in the front image the feet do not even show)…

So what price that so-called anatomical perfection (“accurate to extremely minute details”)? Since when has proposed Marfan’s syndrome been the sine qua non for anatomical perfection?

Update: 17:30 Tuesday:

October 29, 2013 at 1:07 pm | #21

Progress report:

1. As predicted, cotton fabrics give a far more intense scorch than linen, when the two are overlapped and imprinted with the same hot template spanning the two.

Linen( on top, overlapping cotton, but scorches less well than the lower-plane cotton, using a heated metal template.

Linen( on top, overlapping cotton, but scorches less well than the lower-plane cotton, using a heated metal template.

Practical relevance: assuming it is the incredibly thin PCW of linen that is susceptible to scorching, and can be selectively scorched leaving the underlying cellulose core untouched, then it’s looking increasingly easier to rationalize the superficiality of the Shroud image as being restricted to the PCW, and to see why it is possible to have selective scorching.

2. I have come across a very recent paper (2011) that describes in detail how hemicelluloses, pectins etc can be simply removed from flax fibres using dilute caustic alkali (NaOH).


The paper shows photomicrographs before and after, suggesting strongly that it is an outer flaky coating that is removed by alkali leaving a smooth core. (There may even be those ribs in the schematic diagram above, using the eye of faith). Could it be that a simple steeping in alkali is all that will be needed to leave a chemically-stripped linen that will then resist being scorched? If so, that would provide prima facie evidence, would it not, that the Shroud image might be restricted to the outermost, superficial PCW, explaining its alleged thinness (200-600nnm)?

3. I have some liquid oven cleaner at home that is a mixture of sodium hydroxide and detergent. I shall try treating linen and maybe cotton straightaway to see whether the end-product, after washing and drying, is then scorch resistant.

This is going well, far too well. My luck can’t possibly hold

Update: 21:00

October 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm | #26

Follow up report: have got a good result with cotton – alkali pre-treatment results in a marked reduction in scorch intensity, especially at higher temperature.

Cotton, 35 mins in alkali. Sizeable difference between alkali and control, most noticeable at left of sequence where the template was at its max temperature, prior to serial imprinting left to right.

Cotton, 35 mins in alkali. Sizeable difference between alkali and control, most noticeable at 2nd on left of sequence where the template was at its max temperature, prior to serial imprinting left to right.

That was using a 30 minute steeping in commercial oven-cleaner diluted 1:5. The result with linen was not nearly so clear cut – disappointing in fact – with a smaller difference (just discernible maybe).

35 mins in alkali - not a lot of difference between alkali-treated and control.

Linen: 35 mins in alkali – not a lot of difference between alkali-treated and control.

But these are early days. Maybe a higher concentration of alkali is needed with linen or a longer treatment period. These are early days. More work is needed.

It may be that linen has a negligible amount of PCW, compared to cotton, as a result of anatomical differences or retting. But that would still leave hemicellulose admixed with cellulose in the secondary cell wall comprising the core of the fibre – less superficial but still prone maybe to dehydration and yellowing , while making for a less simple take-away story. But there we go: that’s science bizz – one takes each day as it comes…

Update: Wednesday 30th October, 12:30 pm

October 30, 2013 at 8:19 am | #28

If cotton were linen, then I would be able to announce the (well nigh) perfect result, based on that graphic above showing reactive hemicellulose being the most superficial layer, and thus prone to both heat degradation, and solublization in alkali. You see, after steeping cotton overnight in diluted alkali, there is now an amazing difference in ‘scorchability’ – the untreated cotton being black, and the treated being a faint tan.

Overnight steeping in alkali makes cotton fabric much less susceptible to scorching (patents pending  ;-)

Overnight steeping in alkali makes cotton fabric much less susceptible to scorching (patents pending 😉

Sadly for shroudology (or fortuitously for some) linen is not cotton, and behaves very differently. First it is far less prone to scorching, and secondly there is scarcely any difference between alkali-treated and control (there’s a little, as per prediction, but not nearly enough upon which to build a case).

Very little difference between linen before and after overnight alkali treatment re susceptibility to scorching (no patentable findings here)

Very little difference between linen before and after overnight alkali treatment re susceptibility to scorching (no patentable findings here)

I have now emptied undiluted oven cleaner onto linen in an attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. I’ll test half of the fabric this evening.

In the meantime, I’m thinking of other possible scenarios that are not inspired by that graphic above. Hugh Farey mentioned lignin a while back as a possible target for whatever produced the image on the Shroud, and there is plenty of that in certain grades of linen, both at those peculiar dislocation nodes, and according to some, outside them as well. While I’m in sloshing chemical mode, it occurs to me that lignin can be dissolved out with metabisulphites, as per paper industry, and that the Campden tablets one uses in wine-making as a disinfectant are mainly sodium metabisulphite. So at some stage I’ll repeat these tests, substituting metabisulphite for alkali, and see if I can bring linen to heel, darned pesky disobedient stuff…


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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