The Turin Shroud is one of the most enigmatic artefacts on earth. It is purported to be the burial cloth used to shroud the body of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion, and the faint image of a naked man imprinted on the cloth is believed to be that of the Messiah Himself.

The history of the shroud, a 14-foot long piece of herringbone woven cloth, appears to show the faint imprint of a man bearing wounds consistent with crucifixion, but while devout Christians believe it is a miracle, scientists have always queried its authenticity. Certainly radiocarbon dating carried out by Oxford University in 1988 suggested that the shroud was only 728 years old and so must be a forgery; however a new study claims than an earthquake in Jerusalem in 33AD may have been involved in creating the image and could also have affected the accuracy of the dating results.

The results of a new research study, published in the journal Meccanica and conducted at the Politecnico di Torino, suggests that neutron emissions from an earthquake occurring around the time of Jesus’ death could have created the image on the cloth. More importantly, they could also have affected the radiocarbon levels that suggested the shroud was not authentic in the 1988 test.

The new theory is substantiated by historical records that confirm an earthquake did occur in 33AD, the year that Jesus is thought to have been crucified. The event is documented in various accounts of the crucifixion, including that of the Greek historian Thallos, the gospel of Matthew, the narrative of Joseph of Arimathea, and the work of Dante Alighieri.

Researchers A. Carpinteri, G. Lacidogna, and O. Borla simulated conditions from the earthquake by crushing brittle rock specimens. They discovered that neutron emissions could have been generated by such an event, causing chemical reactions in the cloth to create the facial image now present.

The cloth has been subjected to other rigorous tests over the years, including a thorough examination in 1978 performed by an international team of experts including members of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP).The team spent 120 hours testing the cloth and a statement of the findings published on the Turin Shroud website reads thus:

"We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery and until further chemical studies are made, perhaps by this group of scientists, or perhaps by some scientists in the future, the problem remains unsolved."

This report appeared to validate the shroud’s authenticity until the later test using carbon-dating technology revealed the cloth to be only a few hundred years old. The new findings could now invalidate the results of the 1988 test, but the study has received mixed reactions from the researcher’s peers as previous studies of radiocarbon dating in other earthquake-prone areas, such as Japan, have not been found to be inaccurate:

"People have been measuring materials of that age for decades now and nobody has ever encountered this," said Gordon Cook, a professor of environmental geochemistry at the University of Glasgow.

A previous study conducted by Giulio Fanti, a professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at the University of Padua, re-examined the fibers that were taken from the shroud in 1988.

Two tests were carried out using infrared light and Raman spectroscopy, while a third employed a test analyzing different mechanical parameters relating to voltage.The results dated the cloth to between 300 B.C. and 400 A.D., and Fanti also reported that trace elements of soil "compatible with the soil of Jerusalem" were also identified.

This and the most recent findings suggest that the shroud could in fact be a genuine holy relic. Whether it is a forgery or not, however, the shroud remains an icon of the Messiah’s crucifixion, and as such holds symbolic value if nothing else. Those with faith will not require scientific proof in order to believe in its authenticity, but will continue to view it as a miracle.

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