by Tia Ghose
Is it a medieval fake or a relic of Jesus Christ? A new analysis of DNA from the Shroud of Turin reveals that people from all over the world have touched the venerated garment.
“Individuals from different ethnic groups and geographical locations came into contact with the Shroud [of Turin] either in Europe (France and Turin) or directly in their own lands of origin (Europe, northeast Africa, Caucasus, Anatolia, Middle East and India),” study lead author Gianni Barcaccia, a geneticist at the University of Padua in Italy and lead author of the new study describing the DNA analysis, said in an email. “We cannot say anything more on its origin.”
The new findings don’t rule out either the notion that the long strip of linen is a medieval forgery or that it’s the true burial shroud of Jesus Christ, the researchers said.
On its face, the Shroud of Turin is an unassuming piece of twill cloth that bears traces of blood and a darkened imprint of a man’s body. Though the Catholic Church has never taken an official stance on the object’s authenticity, tens of thousands flock to Turin, Italy, every year to get a glimpse of the object, believing that it wrapped the bruised and bleeding body of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion. [Religious Mysteries: 8 Alleged Relics of Jesus]
According to legend, the shroud was secretly carried from Judea in A.D. 30 or 33, and was housed in Edessa, Turkey, and Constantinople (the name for Istanbul before the Ottomans took over) for centuries. After crusaders sacked Constantinople in A.D. 1204, the cloth was smuggled to safety in Athens, Greece, where it stayed until A.D. 1225.
However, the Catholic Church only officially recorded its existence in A.D. 1353, when it showed up in a tiny church in Lirey, France. Centuries later, in the 1980s, radiocarbon dating, which measures the rate at which different isotopes of the carbon atoms decay, suggested the shroud was made between A.D. 1260 and A.D. 1390, lending credence to the notion that it was an elaborate fake created in the Middle Ages. (Isotopes are forms of an element with a different number of neutrons.)
But critics argued that the researchers used patched-up portions of the cloth to date the samples, which could have been much younger than the rest of the garment.
What’s more, the Gospel of Matthew notes that “the earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open” after Jesus was crucified. So geologists have argued that an earthquake at Jesus’ death could have released a burst of neutrons. The neutron burst not only would have thrown off the radiocarbon dating but also would have led to the darkened imprint on the shroud.
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