Shroud University

The Story Behind
The Shroud of Turin
And the Carbon Dating Debacle

Shroud of Turin Education Project, Inc.

The Shroud of Turin is a mysterious 14-foot long linen cloth that resides in Turin, Italy and bears the faint image of a crucified man. It has inspired millions over the centuries who believed it to be the authentic burial shroud of Jesus. Those hopes were heightened in 1978 when a team of 24 American scientists analyzed the cloth up close for five days and nights. Dozens of sophisticated tests using equipment on loan from numerous space age labs across the country indicated that the image was not the work of an artist. There are no artistic substances to be found and the bloodstains contain human hemoglobin from actual wounds.

The 80’s were buzzing with Shroud related news as more and more data flowed in supporting the cloth’s possible authenticity. If proven to be real, the implication would be enormous. Is it possible that a document of the Passion still exists? Would this not be comparable to making the greatest archaeological discovery in history? One scientist speculated and said maybe it was, “a love letter left behind for the analytical mind.”


But hopes were soon dashed in 1988 when the cloth was carbon dated by three laboratories in Zurich, Oxford and Arizona. They came back with a date range of 1260 to 1390 declaring the cloth only 600-700 years old. So much for the Shroud being authentic. The New York Times announced that the Shroud was a fake, end of story.

But the story has a plot that few know about and is starting to make the news. But lets go back to 1988 first. The three dating labs, according to a scientific protocol agreed upon in 1985, were supposed to cut several samples of the Shroud from different locations. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. Instead, the scientific adviser to the Arch Diocese of Turin, Luigi Gonnella, decided to violate the protocol and allowed only one sample to be cut from an outside corner where it had been handled hundreds of times over the centuries as it was held up for public viewing.

One would think that a sample is a sample and why would it make any difference? That is like saying DNA is DNA, but not if you have the wrong DNA. How could it be a bad sample? The Shroud was in a fire in 1532 that nearly destroyed the cloth. Eight gaping holes were patched up and the entire cloth was attached to a backing cloth for support. This occurred in 1534 at a time when weaving had become an art and professional weavers were called upon to do “invisible mending” on fine tapestries restoring them to their original condition.

Now for what’s making the news. The violation of the sampling protocol in 1988 appears to have been a colossal mistake. Recent micro-chemical tests performed on thread samples from the area cut for carbon dating have been compared with threads taken from the main body of the Shroud and low and behold they are not the same! It appears that Gonella and the carbon labs were fooled by the handiwork of highly skilled French re-weavers according to museum textile experts.

Another violation of the protocol now seems more important too. The labs were supposed to do micro-chemical tests on the sample to make sure it was representative of the entire cloth. Guess what, they didn’t do that either. It seems like they just looked at it and said, “Yep, sure looks like the Shroud to me. Let’s cut it and get out of here.”

We had to wait 17 years for Ray Rogers, a retired Fellow with the Los Alamos Scientific laboratory and lead chemist for the original Shroud project in 1978, to do the micro-chemical tests the carbon labs were supposed to do in the first place. Published recently (January 20, 2005) in a peer reviewed scientific journal, ThermoChimica Acta, is an article containing the results of his analysis.

The key findings are as follows:

The radiocarbon sample that was used to date the Shroud has a very different composition and structure than the rest of the cloth and was not valid for dating the Shroud.

Teddy Hall who was head of the Oxford carbon lab in 1988 said, “One would have to be a member of the Flat Earth Society” to believe the Shroud was authentic. I’ve just updated my membership.