Credulous PLOS One publishes evidence for body trauma on the Turin Shroud image

Mystic Post is a Website which publishes articles on Catholic visions (especially Medjugorje). It would be an understatement to say that its coverage tends to be rather uncritical, but from time to time, I take a look at it anyway. One thing I like about visionaries is that they make prophecies which are falsifiable, and Mystic Post has been throwing out very broad hints that something big may happen this year. A few hours ago, I came across an article on Mystic Post, titled, Breaking News – New Prestigious Study on Shroud of Turin…”There is blood of a man tortured and killed” (July 11, 2017). The article quoted extensively from a story by Andrea Tornielli, published in the printed edition of the Italian daily newspaper, La Stampa (July 1, 2017). To my great surprise, the opening paragraph cited a study which recently appeared in PLOS One (emphases are in the original):

The Shroud of Turin, the linen cloth that according to an ancient tradition, wrapped the body of Jesus after crucifixion, actually came into contact with the blood of a dead man who suffered many serious injuries. This is what emerges from a research on a fabric fiber extracted from the dorsal imprint of the cloth, around the feet area. The study was conducted by two CNR institutes, the Istituto Officina dei Materiali (IOM-CNR) in Trieste and the Institute of Crystallography (IC-CNR) in Bari, together with the Department of Industrial Engineering of the University of Padua, the latter uncovered the news with a statement. An article detailing the discovery findings and measurements was published in the American journal PlosOne and titled “New Biological Evidence from Atomic Resolution Studies on the Turin Shroud”.

At first, I couldn’t believe that PlosOne would publish such an article, but there was no doubt about it. It’s perfectly genuine, although I couldn’t help noticing that both the title and the article itself were written in very awkward English: Atomic resolution studies detect new biologic evidences on the Turin Shroud by Elvio Carlino, Liberato De Caro, Cinzia Giannini and Giulio Fanti (June 30, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0180487). Obviously, the study’s authors could have used a proofreader. Reading on, my astonishment grew, and I wondered how a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal had so readily accepted such an article for publication. To be clear: while the actual scientific work described in the body of the article is quite interesting, the authors’ personal bias is all too apparent in the article’s Introduction. Clearly, they regard the Shroud as bolstering Christian claims. As I’ll argue below, that would be going far beyond the evidence. There are weighty reasons for doubting that the man on the Shroud is actually Jesus.

Let me begin by quoting the last two paragraphs of the article’s Introduction. The authors set the scene by pointing out that until now, all microscopic analyses conducted on the Turin Shroud have been “limited, at the best of times, to sub-micrometer spatial resolution.” After arguing for the presence of human blood on the Shroud, the authors examine creatinine nanoparticles, 20–100 nm in size, embedding even smaller (2–6 nm) nanoparticles of ferrihydrite, which, they claim, suggest that the man wrapped in the Shroud died a violent death:

Here we present an atomic resolution study on a fiber of the TS [Turin Shroud] performed by Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) and Wide Angle X-ray Scanning (WAXS) Microscopy. The fiber, of about two millimeters, comes from an area of the feet (dorsal image) containing some red crusts, of about one micrometer, visible by optical microscope [17]. TEM experiments were performed in areas of the fiber away from red crusts.

TEM analyses show that the fiber is fully covered by creatinine nanoparticles, 20–100 nm in size, embedding small (2–6 nm) nanoparticles, made of defected ferrihydrite, typical of biologic ferritin cores. WAXS shows the presence of diffraction peaks of defected cellulose. Here we show how atomic resolution investigations unexpectedly discover a scenario of violence hidden at the nanoscale in the TS fiber and also suggest an explanation for the controversial results so far obtained. Indeed, a high level of creatinine and ferritin is related to patients suffering of strong polytrauma like torture. Hence, the presence of these biological nanoparticles found during our TEM experiments point a violent death for the man wrapped in the Turin shroud. (Emphasis mine – VJT.)

The errors in grammar and syntax in the passage above are so numerous that I won’t even bother commenting on them. Nevertheless, the electron microscopy analyses sound quite legitimate, so I can understand why the academic editors might have given the article serious consideration, on purely technical grounds. However, it is the duty of an academic editor to be vigilant. The opening two paragraphs in the article’s Introduction contain several red flags, which I am astonished that the editors failed to notice.

The Turin Shroud [1] (TS) is a handmade 3–1 twill linen cloth, 4.4 m long and 1.1 m wide, showing the double image of a dead body of a scourged, thorn-crowned man who was stabbed in the side and crucified [2]. It is believed by many that it was the burial cloth in which Jesus of Nazareth was wrapped about 2000 years ago. Conversely, others think that it is a fake. However, the TS image has not been explained nor reproduced so far by science [3], although some hypotheses have been proposed [4]. There are some indications [5] that the TS was in Palestine in the first century A.D. and then taken to Edessa, now Sanliurfa (TR). The similarity of many details of the TS face with the Christ on Byzantine coins in use from the VII century A.D. is a clue that the TS were already known during the Byzantine Empire [3]. After the Sac of Constantinople in 1204 the “Shroud of Christ” appeared in Europe in 1353 at Lirey (F) [5] and in 1532 at Chambéry (F) where it was fire damaged [6]. It was taken to Turin in 1578 where it is still now.

In 1989 the linen fabric of the TS was radiocarbon dated to the Middle Ages [7]. This result is considered wrong by some authors claiming the presence of systematic errors [8]. Another work indicated an age for the TS “between 1300-and 3000-years old.” [9] A mechanical analysis coupled with opto-chemical measurements has recently dated the TS to 90 AD ±200 years [10].

Something fishy here…

Now, let’s have a look at the ten references cited. Notice anything funny?

1. Schwalbe LA, & Rogers RN. Physics and chemistry of the Shroud of Turin, a summary of the 1978 investigation. Analytical Chem. Acta 1982; 135, 3–49

2. Jumper EJ, Adler AD, Jackson JP, Pellicori SF, Heller JH, Druzik JR. A comprehensive examination of the various stains and images on the Shroud of Turin. ACS Advances in Chemistry, Archaeological Chemistry III 1984; 205, 447–476

3. Fanti G & Malfi P. The Shroud of Turin: First Century after Christ!, Pan Stanford, Singapore, 2015; ISBN: 978-981-4669-12-2; 10.1201/b18627-11

4. Fanti G. Hypotheses regarding the formation of the body image on the Turin Shroud. A critical compendium. Jour. Imaging Sci. Technol., 2011; 55, (6), 060507

5. Wilson I, Miller V. “The Mysterious Shroud“, 1986; Doubleday Image Book, USA, ISBN: 0385247486

6. Fanti G.Optical features of flax fibers coming from the Turin Shroud”, ATSI 2014, Workshop on Advances in the Turin Shroud Investigation, Bari, September 4–5 2014. http://www.shs-conferences.org/articles/shsconf/pdf/2015/02/shsconf_atsi2014_00004.pdf

7. Damon PE, Donahue DJ, Gore BH, Hatheway AL, Jull AJT, Linick TW et al. (21 authors), Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin Nature 1989; 337, 611–615

8. Riani M, Atkinson AC, Fanti G & Crosilla F. Regression analysis with partially labelled regressors: carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin. Journal of Statistical Computing 2012; http://www.springerlink.com/content/6546174v21304376

9. Rogers RN, Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the Shroud of Turin. Thermochimica Acta 2005; 425 (1–2), 189–194

10. Fanti G, Malfi P. & Crosilla F. Mechanical and opto-chemical dating of the Turin Shroud, MATEC Web of Conferences, 2015; 36, N.01001,

Notice anything? No less than five of the ten references in the passage above cite works authored or co-authored by Giulio Fanti, one of the study’s four authors. Most of the other references are by pro-Shroud authors. Only one reference listed [7] casts doubt on the Shroud’s authenticity, and this study is said to be trumped by “another work” which indicated an age for the Turin Shroud of “between 1300-and 3000-years old” [9], as well as “a mechanical analysis coupled with opto-chemical measurements,” which recently dated the Turin Shroud to “90 AD ±200 years” [10]. The first source cited [9] is an article published in Thermochimica Acta in 2005 (more about that anon), while the leading author of the latter study [10] was none other than Fanti himself.

It is a pity that an article which was published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, has presented such a one-sided picture of the arguments for and against the Shroud’s authenticity and antiquity. And it is an even greater pity that the editors of PLOS One did not spot the bias. What were they thinking?

For readers who are interested, Shroud blogger Dan Porter has written a very balanced summary of the various claims and counter-claims relating to the Shroud in his final post on his Shroud of Turin Blog.

Claims that the Shroud of Turin has a long history are highly dubious

In their Introduction, the authors of the PLOS One study write:

There are some indications [5] that the TS [Turin Shroud] was in Palestine in the first century A.D. and then taken to Edessa, now Sanliurfa (TR) [Turkey]. The similarity of many details of the TS face with the Christ on Byzantine coins in use from the VII century A.D. is a clue that the TS were already known during the Byzantine Empire [3]. After the Sac (sic) of Constantinople in 1204 the “Shroud of Christ” appeared in Europe in 1353 at Lirey (F) [France]…

In fact, there is no good evidence for any of these claims, some of which appear very doubtful, as novelist and historian Dominic Selwood writes in a highly informative article in The Spectator (27 April 2015):

Everything before 1355 is speculation. For instance, people have put forward claims that the shroud was once known as the ‘Image of Edessa’ (sometimes called the ‘Mandylion’) before it was moved to Constantinople, where it was seen in 1204 by the crusader Robert de Clari at the church of My Lady St Mary of Blachernae, before being secretly brought back to Europe by the Templar, Geoffrey de Charney.

There is, in fact, not a shred of evidence for any of this, and history contradicts most of it. For instance, the Templars did not take part in the 1204 siege of Constantinople, and Geoffrey de Charney the Templar lived a hundred years later…

[N]o Roman, Byzantine, or medieval monarch seems to have been aware of the shroud, and the difficulty with claiming it dates from the first century AD is that there is no credible evidence for where it was during the 1,320 years following the crucifixion. Moreover, even once it surfaced in France around 1355, it made very little stir, with no interest from the French royal family or the pope, strongly suggesting they did not believe it to be genuine…

All in all, the historical evidence clearly points to a provable provenance starting in the mid-1300s. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

Selwood puts forward his own theory as to the origin of the blood on the shroud (emphases mine – VJT):

There is no reason to exclude the possibility of an artist experimenting with cadavers in order to understand the physiology of death and post mortem blood flows from wounds. Ancient Greek sculptors were meticulous in their depiction of every vein and artery. In the 1400s, Leonardo da Vinci filled his sketchbooks with anatomical drawings of flayed body parts. Caravaggio reportedly used a drowned prostitute as his model for the ‘Death of the Virgin’ (1606). And Géricault studied dead bodies for his ‘Raft of the Medusa’ (1819). So why should anyone discount the idea that a talented medieval artist went to obsessive lengths to recreate the burial shroud of a crucified man?

This hypothesis could well explain the evidence of severe bodily trauma in the blood on the Shroud, identified by the PLOS One study’s authors. Even today, in the Philippines, crucifixion reenactments are very common:

Criticisms of the medieval date obtained for the Turin Shroud in 1989 all miss the mark

The academic editors of PLOS One would have been well-advised to consult the very thorough Wikipedia article on the Shroud of Turin (emphases mine – VJT):

Some proponents for the authenticity of the shroud have attempted to discount the radiocarbon dating result by claiming that the sample may represent a medieval “invisible” repair fragment rather than the image-bearing cloth.[8][9][18][19][85][86][87][88][89] It has been suggested, for example, that burnt residue,[12][13] or other types of residues,[16][90] might have skewed the radiocarbon date toward the present. These various challenges have all been refuted by experts based on scientific analysis of shroud evidence.[12][16][17][18][19][20] According to professor Christopher Ramsey of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit in 2011: “There are various hypotheses as to why the dates might not be correct, but none of them stack up.”[21]

And here’s another quote from the Wikipedia article, Radiocarbon 14 dating of the Shroud of Turin, which rebuts some common criticism of the dating of the Shroud to between 1260 and 1390 A.D., back in 1989 (emphases are mine – VJT):

Raymond Rogers [62] argued in the scientific journal Thermochimica Acta that the presence of vanillin differed markedly between the unprovenanced threads he was looking at, which contained 37% of the original vanillin, while the body of the shroud contained 0% of the original vanillin. He stated that: “The fact that vanillin cannot be detected in the lignin on shroud fibers, Dead Sea scrolls linen, and other very old linens indicate that the shroud is quite old. A determination of the kinetics of vanillin loss suggest the shroud is between 1300 and 3000 years old. Even allowing for errors in the measurements and assumptions about storage conditions, the cloth is unlikely to be as young as 840 years”.[47]

It has been stated that Roger’s vanillin-dating process is untested, and the validity thereof is suspect, as the deterioration of vanillin is heavily influenced by the temperature of its environment – heat strips away vanillin rapidly, and the shroud has been subjected to temperatures high enough to melt silver and scorch the cloth.[46] Rogers’ analysis is also questioned by skeptics such as Joe Nickell, who reasons that the conclusions of the author, Raymond Rogers, result from “starting with the desired conclusion and working backward to the evidence”.[63]…

In March 2013 Giulio Fanti, professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at the University of Padua conducted a battery of experiments on various threads that he believes were cut from the shroud during the 1988 Carbon-14 dating, and concluded that they dated from 300 B.C. to 400 A.D., potentially placing the Shroud within the lifetime of Jesus of Nazareth.[53][54][55][56][57][58][59] Because of the manner in which Fanti obtained the shroud fibers, many are dubious about his findings. The shroud’s official custodian, Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin, told Vatican Insider: “As there is no degree of safety on the authenticity of the materials on which these experiments were carried out [on] the shroud cloth, the shroud’s custodians cannot recognize any serious value to the results of these alleged experiments.”[60][61] Barrie Schwortz, a member of the original STURP investigation team, commented on Fanti’s theory: “But it would be more convincing if the basic research had first been presented in a professional, peer-reviewed journal. If you’re using old techniques in new ways, then you need to submit your approach to other scientists.”[60]

In the interests of fairness, I should point out that the authors of the 2017 PLOS One study have addressed Archbishop Nosiglia’s criticism by obtaining a sample of the Shroud directly from Barrie Schwortz, for their latest testing, as they note in their Acknowledgments: “Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association Inc. (STERA Inc.), represented by B. Schwortz, is acknowledged for providing the sticky tape containing the fiber of the Turin Shroud.”

But isn’t there overwhelming evidence for the Shroud’s authenticity?

Many people believe that notwithstanding the prima facie evidence against the Shroud, there is overwhelming evidence in favor of its authenticity. Not so, according to long-time Shroud blogger, Dan Porter, whose article, Thank you, everyone (December 15, 2015), ably summarizes the various claims and counter-claims relating to the Shroud. Porter thinks the Shroud is probably genuine, but he’s not certain. A few highlights:

On Overwhelming Evidence: From time to time, people have tried to convince me that the evidence in favor of authenticity is overwhelming. Similarly, others have tried to convince me that the evidence against authenticity – particularly the carbon dating – is overwhelming. No, it is not. It is underwhelming…

Redo the Carbon Dating: Of course.

On Seeing Things on the Shroud: I don’t think there are any images of ancient coins, plants, teeth or written messages in Greek, Latin or Hebrew; all these are wishful misperceptions or pareidolia. See: I Don’t See Flowers and Coins and Teeth on the Shroud of Turin

On 3D Encoding: … [I]t is often said that it is impossible to plot 3D information from paintings and ordinary photographs… Unfortunately, that doesn’t hold up. See: It is really, really time to rethink what we think about 3D

In the absence of a knockdown case in favor of the Shroud’s authenticity, arguments against its authenticity need to be taken very seriously. Below, I briefly examine these arguments, in increasing order of strength. I invite readers to draw their own conclusions.

The Shroud image has been replicated

The authors of the PLOS One study also state that the Turin Shroud image “as not been explained nor reproduced so far by science.” However, as evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne points out in an article on his Website, Why Evolution Is True, “an Italian scientist managed to reproduce the Shroud by using materials that would have been available during the Middle Ages.” (To be fair, I should point out that this reproduction has been criticized).

The Shroud has the wrong kind of weave for a cloth made 2,000 years ago

But the clinching evidence against the Shroud’s authenticity can be found in an article by Charles Freeman in History Today, titled, “The origins of the Shroud of Turin.” Professor Coyne summarizes the evidence in the article I referred to above. I’ll quote from just two of the highlights.

“Circumstantial evidence also comes from the nature of the weave. Linen has been woven from 6,000 bc and herringbone weave has been known in Sweden from as early as the second millennium bc. However, three-in-one weave, in which the weft threads go under one thread of the warp and then over the next three, is very rare, with few examples earlier than the silk damasks of the third century ad. No three-in-one herringbone linen weave has ever been discovered from an ancient site, let alone one that has been preserved in such excellent condition as the Shroud. The only surviving example of a three-in-one herringbone twill in linen other than the Shroud is to be found in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. It consists of two fragments of a block-printed stole or maniple. The print has been dated to the 14th century, confirming that this pattern of weave was known then.”

Freeman adds that there are cotton fibers mixed haphazardly in with the linen, probably the result of cotton in the air that was being spun or woven nearby and landed on the shroud as it was being produced. But cotton and flax weren’t processed in the same sites until medieval times, giving further evidence for a late production of the Shroud.

The front and back images on the Shroud don’t even match up!

To cap it all, Freeman argues that the front and back images of Jesus on the shroud don’t even match up:

“What can we say about the painting on the Shroud? The images are crude and limited in tone. They show none of the expertise of the great painters of the 14th century, who, even on linen, were capable of mixing a variety of pigments into rich colours. The join of the head and the shoulders on the frontal image is particularly inept. Although the artist did try to reproduce images that might have touched a crucified body and left a mark, the two images are not even simultaneous representations of the same body. This can be seen from the arms as they are shown in the early depictions. If you lie on the ground and place your elbows in the same position as those on the back image of the Shroud, you can quickly see that it is impossible to hold the position of the crossed arms in the front. There is a difference of seven centimetres between the lengths of the two bodies. Then again the heads do not meet, suggesting that this was not a cloth that was ever folded over an actual head. A cloth laid on a body would pick up its contours, but there is no sign of this. Again, the hair of the body would have fallen back if the figure had been lying down but the blood is as if it is trickling down the hair of a standing figure. In short, it appears to be a painting made by an artist whose only concession to his subject is to imagine that this is a negative impression of the body (as shown by the wound on the chest being on the left of the image in contrast to the conventional right, as seen in the Holkham crucifixion scene) that had been transferred to the cloth.”

Although he regards the Shroud as a fake, Freeman is careful not to call it a fraud, since it wasn’t originally designed in order to to deceive people.

Shroud researcher Barrie Schwortz, who is not a Christian but a Jew, and who has researched the Shroud for 38 years, has criticized Freeman’s claim that the Shroud may have been originally created for a medieval Easter ritual, arguing: “It is not an easy image to reproduce.” However, Schwortz makes no attempt to explain the anatomical inaccuracies on the Shroud.

The Shroud image seems to be anatomically impossible

And as if that were not bad enough, it appears that the face and proportions of the Shroud image are anatomically impossible. To quote Wikipedia:

Nickell, in 1983, and Gregory S. Paul in 2010, separately state that the proportions of the image are not realistic. Paul stated that the face and proportions of the shroud image are impossible, that the figure cannot represent that of an actual person and that the posture was inconsistent. They argued that the forehead on the shroud is too small; and that the arms are too long and of different lengths and that the distance from the eyebrows to the top of the head is non-representative. They concluded that the features can be explained if the shroud is a work of a Gothic artist.[137][138]

To date, I haven’t seen anything online refuting Gregory Paul’s anatomical analysis.

I note in passing that the Shroud of Turin Website makes no mention of the latest article on the Shroud in PLOS One. I have no idea why, but I find that odd.

Conclusion

I would like to note for the record that PLOS One has been embroiled in academic controversies on previous occasions, over articles it accepted or rejected for publication.

Finally, I oppose censorship as contrary to the spirit of a democracy. However, I do think that a scientific journal should strive to remain non-partisan, especially in matters touching on religion, if it is to maintain its credibility. The editors of PLOS One should have asked the authors of the article to tone down the Introduction, as it makes suggestions which are historically doubtful, and which, even if true, go far beyond the evidence.

55 thoughts on “Credulous PLOS One publishes evidence for body trauma on the Turin Shroud image

  1. Mung: Stupid question. If there were no God at all you wouldn’t be here to ask it. That’s a pretty significant difference.

    Stupid answer; there’s nothing to indicate your conclusion. Try again. What’s the difference between your god and no god at all?

  2. VJ,

    Sorry for the late reply.

    Thank you for posting this. I’m agnostic with respect to the Shroud. There is also the Veil of Veronica that I find to be a persuasive relic. I think the Veil of Veronica and the Shroud are not mutually exclusive. I saw a powerful video on the Veil of Verionica just by accident on the American Heroes Channel.

    These relics are more believable to the extent people feel they have seen miracles in their own lives and the lives of others which is the case for me, however, I hold out some level of skepticism on these specific relics even though I believe the account of our Risen Lord and Savior is true.

    God bless you,
    Sal

  3. Thanks for referring to my article.
    This is typical of the many articles that Fanti manages to publicise. This whole thesis is based on a single fibre lifted from the Shroud in1978. There is no evidence that it has been properly conserved since then but Barrie Schwortz seems to hand out these fibres to anyone so long as they use them to back authenticity.
    The claim is that the presences of ferritin iron and creatonine is evidence of a HUMAN who died a violent death. In fact these substances can be found in any animal tissue . It is probably evidence of the rabbit skin glue used to seal the Shroud before it was painted c.1325. Rabbits often met violent deaths too.
    There is more than enough evidence that the Shroud was a typical painted linen. As usually happened with these linens the folding and unfolding led to the pigments breaking up. In fact , the painted images on the Shroud lasted, so far as we can see from depictions, up to the nineteenth century. By the time they had disintegrated the cloth below had become discoloured and this is why you get such shadowy images. The fifteenth century Zittau Veil in Saxony is another example with very similar images. Here again the pigments disintegrated ( they were steamed off in WWII) and the underlying linen was marked in the same way as the Shroud.
    There are 372 individual wounds and marks on the two bodies. No one would have survived this in real life but the iconography of the early fourteenth century crucifixions often showed a mass of sores and wounds like this because they thought that Isaiah1.6 (q.v.) was a premonition of the flagellation. There are lots of good examples- the images in the Fourteenth century Holkham Bible ( q.v.) are very similar to those on the Shroud.
    If you see how this article has been quoted in the global press you will see that claims are made that go well beyond it. This is typical of the way that Fanti works.
    The tragedy is that this kind of thing makes the headlines when it is nonsense.
    Keep up the good work! Charles Freeman.

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