Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Shroud

When I was a young man I was fascinated by the Shroud of Turin, mostly I think because of the striking image that it carries. In the late 1980s the game seemed to be up on its status as a religious relict when radiocarbon assays on cloth fibers from the Shroud showed it dated no earlier than 600 - 700 years ago.

This morning's Denver Post carries the story that a physics professor at University of Colorado - Colorado Springs is trying to reopen the question of the Shroud's age by contending that the samples used for the assays were contaminated. John Jackson believes that the cloth of the Shroud has likely been contaminated by handling and exposure since its first documented appearance in 1360 and may have absorbed carbon monoxide when it was saved from a fire in 1532. If true, the contamination would yield an artifically more recent date.

His argument is persuasive enough that the radiocarbon laboratory at Oxford University, one of three labs that performed the assays, to revisit their results. Contamination of samples is always a big issue when working with radiocarbon dating and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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