Researcher to re-examine radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin

Researcher to re-examine radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin

Dr. John and Rebecca Jackson (Photo credit: The Tablet, newspaper for the Diocese of Brooklyn)
Dr. John and Rebecca Jackson (Photo credit: The Tablet, newspaper for the Diocese of Brooklyn)


The Shroud of Turin Center in Colorado Springs is preparing linen samples similar to the materials used in the Shroud of Turin in an attempt to determine whether or not the carbon dating tests of the shroud could have been skewed by contamination from atmospheric carbon monoxide.

The Shroud of Turin is considered by some to bear an image of the face of Jesus Christ. Made of herring bone linen, the shroud has dimensions of about 4 feet by 14 feet. It bears faint brown discolorations forming the negative image of a man. Its positive image, revealed by modern photography, shows the outline of a bearded man.

Skeptics contend that the shroud is a medieval forgery.

At a conference sponsored by the Shroud Science Group at Ohio State University this weekend, the Los Alamos National Laboratory presented findings that the 1988 test results were flawed because the tested linen samples may have been from material added to the shroud during medieval repairs, the Los Angeles Times says.

A researcher at Oxford University has said he will re-examine the radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin to determine whether a previous test which dated the Shroud to the 13th and 14th centuries is accurate.

Christopher Ramsey, head of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, in a statement on his website said “There is a lot of other evidence that suggests to many that the shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow, and so further research is certainly needed.”

“Only by doing this will people be able to arrive at a coherent history of the shroud which takes into account and explains all of the available scientific and historical information," he continued.

Though Ramsey has agreed to collaborate with shroud researchers, he said he does not believe contamination would have had much effect.

The reexamination of the radiocarbon dating of the shroud has been advocated by John Jackson, a physics lecturer at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Jackson, who with his wife Rebecca runs the Colorado Springs-based Shroud of Turin Center, hypothesizes that the previous carbon dating test results were skewed by elevated levels of carbon monoxide.

While he does not accept the Los Alamos researchers’ contention that some materials in the shroud were added later, John Jackson suggests that atmospheric carbon monoxide could have contaminated the shroud during its long history.

John and Rebecca Jackson say that some evidence, such as the characteristics of the cloth and the details of the image, suggest a much older origin of the shroud. At present John is preparing linen samples to be tested for carbon monoxide contamination, which could be compared to the shroud to prove or disprove his hypothesis.

"If we get to the point where we believe we have a viable hypothesis that works in the lab, then we have scientific grounds to go to Turin and say, 'Here's what we think has happened to the shroud. These are the effects we need to look for. Can we please have access?'" said Jackson, the Los Angeles Times reports.

John Jackson, 62, is a devout Catholic and a former professor at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory. He has been interested in the shroud since he first saw its famous image at the age of 13.

“If you love Christ, why wouldn't you want to explore the possibility that you have an artifact of his material existence on Earth?" he said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

He added that his faith isn't incompatible with his scientific training: "How I think about the shroud comes from the shroud. It's not, 'Gee, I'm a Christian, so I'll force it to be what I want it to be.' That's not scientific logic.”

John’s wife Rebecca, 60, is a convert to Christianity from an Orthodox Jewish background. She moved to Colorado Springs from Brooklyn, New York after enlisting in the army. In 1990, while watching a documentary on the shroud, she began to think the face in the shroud’s image looked like that of her grandfather.

She met John while pursuing her interest in the shroud.

Speaking to CNA in a Monday phone interview, John Jackson explained that the hypothesis of carbon monoxide contamination in the shroud has “serious potential” for upsetting the previous radiocarbon dating of the shroud, but first it must be determined if the hypothesis has scientific merit.

He emphasized that the samples he is preparing are not from shroud but rather are “control linen samples” exposed to conditions similar to those the shroud is believed to have experienced. This preparation process, he said, is going to take a “considerable amount of time” because there are many parameters to the hypothesis.

“We have to be able to address these various parameters and we have, at the moment, only one reaction chamber to be able to do all these different experiments. Any one experiment takes a considerable amount of time to perform.”

Jackson said the research preparations could move more quickly, but he noted their progress is relative to the donations the Shroud Center receives.

“It’s going to take months to several years, I would say,” he told CNA.
If it is shown that gaseous contamination can affect the carbon dating of the shroud, Jackson said, the research would have implications for the radiocarbon community in general.

“It’s important that we bring the radiocarbon community into this project through Oxford so we are not leaving it just to us to say that the radiocarbon dating of shroud was in error, if indeed it is, so that they can be partners in that.”

“I believe they’re genuinely interested in getting an accurate date of the shroud,” he said.

Jackson claimed other linen samples subjected to radiocarbon dating have given misdates as well.

Further, he repeated that historical and archaeological studies of the shroud suggest an earlier date, mentioning its Jewish style of weaving and burial procedure

“The radiocarbon date looks to us like an outlier.”

“I’m very pleased to see the very wide interest in the shroud,” he told CNA, noting the recent Los Angeles Times article on the shroud was listed as the most viewed and most e-mailed article on the paper’s website.

“It would be meaningful to the world if it is authentic, it would be the premier archaeological artifact that could take us into the tomb of Christ, scientifically,” he concluded. “Not to replace faith, but to help us go into the tomb even before Peter and John. That is a really exciting possibility nearly 2,000 years later.”

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