What Does Forensic Science Reveal About The Shroud of Turin?

The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin

It is not often that science and religion go hand in hand but one object in particular has been a focus for forensic investigators over the last 40 years. The Shroud of Turin (believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ) has been investigated numerous times by many experts. Much is known, and much is still under debate. Here we take an unbiased look at what forensic science says about the Shroud of Turin.

The 1978 STURP Research Project:

In 1978 a group of international researchers joined to form STURP (The Shroud of Turin Research Project). Their primary goal was to investigate the image displayed on the Shroud and decide where it had come from. They took 38 sticky tape samples from various areas of the shroud and analyzed them.

In 1981, they released their final report, concluding that no pigments, paints, stains or dyes were present on the shroud. The image of a face and body present on the shroud was not the work of an artist.

The image visible on the shroud was consistent with a man of about 5’ 11” with long hair and a beard. There was blood soaked through the Shroud in various places consistent with crucifixion and the biblical account of Jesus Christ.

There were numerous puncture wounds around the top and back of the man’s forehead. He had been beaten on his face and had also possibly fallen at some point, causing swelling on his cheeks. He may have had a broken nose. There was a wound in his left wrist consistent with crucifixion. The man’s right hand and wrist were covered by his left when he was wrapped for burial, so there was no information on damage to his right wrist.

There was a stream of blood down both arms, consistent with the typical angle of the arms during crucifixion. There were lesions on his back that were consistent with scourge marks from a flagrum (a multi-ended whip used by the Romans). Based on the angle of the injuries the man was beaten on both sides, by two different men. One of the men was taller than the other.

Both of his shoulders were swollen, indicating he may have carried a heavy weight on his back prior to crucifixion, most likely the cross itself. On his right side, a sharp object had pierced him, up through his diaphragm, through his lungs and into his heart. The researchers believe he was stabbed almost immediately post-mortem, because both blood and clear serum came from the wound and pooled in the small of his back at the time of his burial. A spike had been driven through both of the man’s feet.

A Top-Side Image That Doesn’t Make Sense:

While the STURP researchers uncovered much that could be explained by science, they also discovered something that could not yet be explained – by the technology available in 1981, at least.

When the researchers placed a light underneath the shroud, they found that while the man’s blood had soaked all the way through the fabric, the image of the face and body were found only on the topmost layers of the shroud. Yet there were no indications of paint, dye or any method of artificially placing them there.

Dissenting Evidence:

While the 1981 release of STURP’s findings caused a stir, there has since been some additional research into the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, causing some experts to believe that it is in fact an artistic reproduction created much later than Jesus’ crucifixion around 30 A.D.

The first dissenting evidence came in the form of carbon dating, performed by three independent sources: Oxford University, The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and The University of Arizona. All three labs dated the shroud to around 1350 A.D.

The McCrone Research Institute in Illinois also analyzed samples from the Shroud of Turin using magnification technology not available to the original STURP team. They found traces of elements consistent with paint pigment used by medieval artists, specifically vermilion and red ocher. This would explain why the image was only present on the top of the cloth. Interestingly, the McCrone research did not reveal blood anywhere on the shroud, instead attributing the protein Fe2O3, and Hgs found on the shroud to the artist’s pigments, rather than to blood as the initial STURP research did.

Is the Shroud of Turin Real or An Artistic Reproduction?

This question has had advocates on both sides up in arms for over three decades. The truth is, we don’t know with 100% certainty. In some cases it seems clear that it is not real (such as with the carbon dating) and yet at every point both the pro and con research is questioned (as it should be) and the findings are still largely up for debate. Perhaps it will be an up and coming forensic scientist who finally settles the issue?

If you are interested in obtaining your forensic science degree online, please check out our reference pages. There is a high demand in the forensic field, not just to examine religious artifacts but also to explore and solve more “worldly” cases. You can check out some of our information here: What Does It Take to Work In Forensics?