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April 16, 2004
Shroud of Turin: New Evidence?

The enduring mystery of the Shroud of Turin, one of the oldest and most controversial religious artifacts, deepened this week when photographs of the reverse side of the shroud underwent analysis for the first time ever:

Italian scientists have found a matching image of a man's face and possibly his hands on the back of the Turin shroud, believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, one of the researchers said on Thursday.

The discovery that the ghostly image on the back of the linen cloth matches the face that adorns the front is likely to reignite debate over whether the shroud is genuine or a skilful medieval fraud. "The fact that the image is two-sided makes any forgery difficult," Professor Giulio Fanti of the University of Padua told Reuters.

I watched an interesting documentary last week on this subject that aired on the History Channel. The last major Shroud research took place in the 1970s, when the focus was on carbon-dating the fabric itself. It took years to complete that research, and when it was done, the carbon-dating put the fabric's creation date in the 13th century. After that, scientists lost interest in the shroud as anything other than a curiosity. The Catholic Church, which had been careful not to take a position on it -- officially, the Church will insist that faith does not require physical tokens such as the Shroud for validation -- continues to preserve it.

However, not all of the research from that project is as categorical as the carbon-dating seems to be. For instance, one researcher used tape to trap substances in the fabric of the cloth and intended to analyze them later on. Unfortunately, he passed away before completing the work. His family eventually turned over the samples to another researcher, an Israeli who determined that the pollen on the cloth came from plants indigenous to the Holy Land -- and not found in Europe at all. Analysis of the image itself showed that the surface image on the front side of the shroud only penetrated to a one-fiber depth and that the image existed over the blood and not the other way around. Also, the image creates a three-dimensional image in certain topographical analyses, which apparently is extremely unusual.

Now, with the discovery of the image on the reverse, new research into carbon-dating will assume greater importance. The Shroud survived a hot fire in the sixteenth century, and the original NASA scientist who started the first research team is studying the effects of heat and smoke on the carbon-dating of fabrics. In fact, its rescue from a second fire recently is what led to the restoration attempt of its backing material and the new photograpy.

However it all turns out, the grip that the Shroud of Turin has on the imagination of a curious public will not likely fade any time soon.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 16, 2004 6:25 AM

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I first heard the details about the shroud when I went to a lecture on it at the Virginia Junior Classical League Convention when I was in High School. This lecture was actually the first place I heard about the gruesome details of crucifixion. [Read More]

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Tracked on September 2, 2005 10:55 PM

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