Comedy of Errors: 1988 C14 Dating of the Shroud of Turin

“It’s a well-known fact that scientists can produce whatever result they want. If you believe that passionately in something, you can steer the results. My God, we’ve all been guilty of that.” – Physicist Harry Gove, who was involved in carbon dating the Shroud of Turin in 1988

On September 22, 1988, the New York Times dealt a death blow to Christians with the headline “Tests Show Shroud of Turin to Be Fraud, Scientist Hints.” The following February, Nature published research by Damon and twenty of his colleagues, which declared they had “conclusive evidence” based on carbon dating that the Shroud of Turin was medieval and “not from the time of Christ.”[1] The authors dated the Shroud to between 1260 and 1390 with “at least 95 percent confidence.”

In his 2020 book entitled, “The 1988 C-14 Dating of the Shroud of Turin,” Joe Marino carefully and meticulously traced the history behind the dating of the burial cloth, which many people believe once wrapped the body of Jesus Christ. Below, I have presented reasons offered by Joe Marino and others for kicking the 1988 C-14 dating to the curb.   

Established Protocols

In 1985, the following protocols were established by the head of the carbon dating group, Harry Gove, and others for carbon dating the Shroud of Turin.[2]

1. The British Museum would coordinate the process and would provide two control specimens of a known age (known to the British Museum but not to the labs), which together with the Shroud, would be unraveled so as to be indistinguishable (to eliminate potential biases).

2. STURP members were to cut the cloth samples from the Shroud linen.

3. The labs involved would sign written assurances that they would not share the results with anyone who was not authorized by the British Museum.

4. The labs were to keep precise records of the process and methods they used.

5. The labs were to share the results with the Holy See (Pope) prior to publication.

At this point, six labs had been chosen: University of Arizona, University of Rochester, Oxford University, Brookhaven National University, Harwell, and Zurich/Bern. But this number was reduced to three: Arizona, Oxford, and Zurich. The STURP group, which had been investigating the Shroud since the 1970s, recommended that the researchers took samples from multiple places in the body and edges of the Shroud to ensure reliability of the results. That recommendation fell on deaf ears.

To Hell with the Protocols

The protocols were not followed.

1. The controls and Shroud were not unraveled and the Shroud’s pattern could easily be distinguished. Furthermore, the ages of the control samples were shared with the labs.

2. STURP members did not cut samples from the Shroud; only one sample was cut. Giovanni Riggi di Numana, who was associated with STURP in 1978, cut a single 1 x 7 cm sample from a worn edge of the 14’ 5” x 3’7” Shroud. Harry Gove was critical of Riggi for not having worn gloves when he did the cutting.[3]

Archaeologist William Meacham commented:[4] “It would be a tragedy if every lab got the same result but it was wrong because there was something inherently wrong with that particular sample chosen.”

The sample, which had been cut up in varying ways,[5] exhibited “egregious heterogeneity.”[6] This heterogeneity is likely due to the piece having been grafted in, possibly after the 16th century fire. Chemist Ray Rogers identified abnormalities, cotton, and coloring dye in the C14 fabric, which was not in the main body of the Shroud.[7] Rogers had access to linen fibers from STURP 1978 investigations from numerous areas all over the Shroud, including in its center.[8] He had set out to prove Sue Benford and Joe Marino were wrong for stating that the C14 portion was from an invisible French weave, but after performing chemical tests, he determined they were actually right.[9] Furthermore, the main portion of the Shroud was made of linen flax and was without the additional cotton that had been discovered in the C14 piece, which is consistent with ancient Jewish practices that stated that you shouldn’t wear a garment made of two different materials such as wool and linen (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:11).[10] In other words, the sample should not have been used for carbon dating. Carbon dating should only be done on homogeneous samples.

Furthermore, the labs performed “shoddy” work, according to Harry Gove who headed up the C14 tests. Only three labs investigated the Shroud (rather than the initial six) and the three labs communicated with each other throughout the process, despite prohibitions against doing so to prevent collusion. At the Arizona lab, C14 investigators collapsed 8 C14 dates into 4 and arbitrarily enlarged its error from 17 to 31 years.[11]

In 2020, researcher Bryan Walsh emailed Joe Marino and shared the following information concerning the raw data, which researchers have been able to obtain due to the Freedom of Information Act: (1) Though Oxford performed five measurements, they only shared 3 radiocarbon dates; (2) Two of the five Zurich date measurements reported in Nature were much higher than the raw data; (3) Six of the error terms reported in Nature were increased above the raw data while one was decreased; (4) Two of the Tucson raw measurements were combined when they were above what the reported uncertainties would allow; and (5) All of the Oxford uncertainties were increased over the raw data.[12]

“However, it seems the authors failed to conduct standard statistical tests for homogeneity among the inter- and intra-laboratory data, a necessary step to justify combining the data as they did. Had they conducted these tests, the statistical heterogeneity of the data should have served as a qualifier to their conclusions and led to a further exploration of the underlying cause of the discrepancies.”[13]

Oxford profited substantially following its contribution to the C14 dating: 100,000 pounds from ITV and a million pounds from 45 rich friends and businessmen.[14]  

3. Though Harry Gove signed an agreement in Arizona that he would not share any of the dating information once released, he broke that pledge.[15] He wasn’t even supposed to be in the Arizona lab; he was from Rochester and the labs were supposed to be inclusive only to the people who worked there. But he figured out a way to gain entry. He had placed a bet on the Shroud’s age with his colleague Shirley Brignall for a pair of cowboy boots, so as soon as Arizona came up with a date, he shared it with her so he could collect his boots.

4. The labs did not keep precise records. For example, the labs offered different weights at different times for the same pieces of cloth. The 1×7 sample weighed 154.9 milligrams, so Riggi reported that each lab received pieces of 52, 52.8, and 53.7, respectively.[16] When it was pointed out that the three weights add up to more than 154.9, Riggi said the samples came from a smaller sample of 144.8 mg and that he added another 14.1 mg strip.[17]

5. John Maddox, the editor of Nature agreed to publish the study on the Shroud well before anything had even been written. He wanted updates through the draft period, which is not consistent with the peer-reviewed journal process.

Conclusion

“There will be hell to pay when the truth comes out.” Chemist Ray Rogers, who was part of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP)

If your reason for dating the Shroud of Turin is solely based on the C14 dating, you should consider its flawed methodology and failed protocols. As I’ve indicated in other blogs and videos, we have numerous historical and scientific reasons to date the Shroud of Turin to Jesus’ time. These include the absence of all traces of vanillin in the main part of the Shroud,[18] the presence of pollen from the Jerusalem region,[19] the presence of burial ointments,[20] its consistency with blood in the Sudarium of Oviedo,[21] the presence of plant DNA species from Jerusalem,[22] its linen content of flax that was commonly used in ancient times in the ancient near east[23] (rather than cotton), the negative Shroud image that was first discovered in 1898 and which made the image much more visible, the 3-dimensional image based on holography, the presence of type AB human blood,[24]  its consistency with much earlier ancient art,[25] and the stochastic (latent) non-intentional image on the fibrils.[26] Furthermore, modern scholars still do not know precisely how the image landed on the very top fibers of Shroud, whether through radiation or an amazing flash of light.[27] 

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – Jesus, in John 8:12


[1] Damon, P.E. and Donahue, D.J, Gore, B.H., Hatheway, A.L.,  Jull, A.J.T., Linick, T.W., Sercel, P.J., Toolin, L.J., Bronk, C.R., Hall, E.T., Hedges, R.E.M., Housley, R., Law, L.A., Perry, C., Bonani, G., Trumbore , S.,Woelfli, W.,  Ambers, J.C.,  Bowman, S.G.E., Leese M.N., and Tite, M.S. (1989). Radiocarbon dating the Shroud of Turin. Nature, 337, 611-615.

[2] Marino, J. (2020). The 1988 Dating of the Shroud of Turin. USA., 42

[3] Gove, H. (1996). Relic, Icon or Hoax?: Carbon Dating the Turin Shroud, Institute of Physics Publishing: Bristol and Philadelphia, 150-173.

[4][4] Meacham, W. (2005). The Rape of the Turin Shroud: How Christianity’s Most Precious Relic Was Wrongly Condemned and Violated. Lulu.com.

[5] Riani, M., Atkinson, A.C., Fanti, G., and Crosilla, F. (2013). Regression analysis with partially labelled regressors: Carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin. Statistical Computing, 23, 551-561.

[6] Ibid, p. 553.

[7] Rogers, R.N. (2005). Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the Shroud of Turin. Thermochimica Acta 425, 189–194.

[8] Cline, W.D. (n.d.) The right date for the wrong part of the Shroud of Turin. Researchgate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/253628628_The_Right_Date_for_the_Wrong_Part_of_the_Shroud_of_Turin

[9] Cline, W.D. (n.d.) The right date for the wrong part of the Shroud of Turin. Researchgate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/253628628_The_Right_Date_for_the_Wrong_Part_of_the_Shroud_of_Turin. Benford, M.S. and Marino, J.G. (2002). Historical support for a 16th century restoration in the Shroud C-14 sample area. Shroud.com

[10] Cline, W.D. (n.d.) The right date for the wrong part of the Shroud of Turin. Researchgate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/253628628_The_Right_Date_for_the_Wrong_Part_of_the_Shroud_of_Turin

[11] Marino, J. (2020). The 1988 Dating of the Shroud of Turin, USA., 531.

[12] Marino, J. (2020). The 1988 Dating of the Shroud of Turin, USA., 709,

[13] Walsh, B. and Schwalbe, L. (2020) An instructive inter-laboratory comparison: the 1988 radio-carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 29. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352409X19301865?via%3Dihub

[14] Marino, J. (2020). The 1988 Dating of the Shroud of Turin. USA., 511

[15] Marino, J. (2020). The 1988 Dating of the Shroud of Turin. USA., 388, 402.

[16] Marino, J. (2020). The 1988 Dating of the Shroud of Turin. USA., 540

[17] Marino, J. (2020). The 1988 Dating of the Shroud of Turin. USA., 539-540.

[18] Rogers, R.N. (2005). Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the Shroud of Turin. Thermochimica Acta 425, 189–194.

[19] Anonymous. (1999). Briefs. The Science Teacher, 66(7), 10, 12, 15, 17-19; Whanger, A.D. and Whanger, M. (1999). Flora of the Shroud of Turin. Missouri Botanical Garden Press.

[20] Boi, M. (2017). Pollen on the Shroud of Turin: The probable trace left by anointing and embalming. Archaeometry, 2, 316-330.

[21]  Kearse, K.P. (2013). Icons, science, and faith: Comparative examination of the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo. Theology and Science, 11(1), 52-61.

[22] Barcaccia, G., Galla, G., Achilli, A., Olivieri, A. and Torroni, A. (2015). Uncovering the sources of DNA found on the Shroud of Turin. Nature. Scientific reports. | DOI: 10.1038/srep14484

[23] Sheffer, A. and Tidhar, A. (1991). Textiles and basketry at Kuntillad ‘Ajrud. Atigot, 20, 1-26

[24] Fanti, G. and Zagotto (2017). Blood reinforced by pigments in the reddish stains of the Turin Shroud. Journal of Cultural Heritage, 25, 113-120; [24] Jumper, E. J. Adler, L.D., Jackson, J.P. Pellicori, S.F., Heller, J.H., and Druzik, J.R. (1984). A comprehensive examination of the various stains and images on the Shroud of Turin, Archaeological Chemistry III, 22, 447–476.

[25] Casabianca, T. (2021). The ongoing historical debate about the Shroud of Turin: The case of the Pray Codex. The Heythrop Journal, 789-802

[26] Curciarello, F., De Leo, V., Fazio, G., Mandaglio, G. (2012). The abrupt changes in the yellow fibril density in the Linen of Turin. Radiation Effects and Defects in Solids. Incorporating Plasma Techniques & Plasma Phenomena, 167(3), 224-228; ); Fazio, G. and Mandaglio, G. (2011). Radiation Effects and Defects in Solids, 165, 476–479.

[27] Tribbe, F.C. (2006). Portrait of Jesus? The Shroud of Turin in Science and History. Second Edition. Omega Books.

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