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Forensic research (once again) suggests the Shroud of Turin is fake

Scientists used blood pattern analysis research techniques to study stains on the Shroud, concluding they are inconsistent with a single position.
IMAGE: Shroud of Turin
The Shroud of Turin is believed by many in the Catholic community to be Jesus' burial cloth.Massimo Pinca / AP file

Forensic scientists have once again concluded that the Shroud of Turin, supposedly the burial cloth Jesus was wrapped in after his crucifixion, was artificially created.

The Shroud, which is kept in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, has long been a subject of controversy within the Catholic community. Believers say its stains are the blood of Jesus, while others have questioned whether the stains are even blood at all.

The new research is in line with numerous previous studies that have concluded that the Shroud is not authentic. Earlier carbon dating work has determined that it dates to 1260 to 1390; Jesus is generally believed to have died in the year 33. And a blue ribbon panel called the Turin Commission concluded in 1979 that stains on the garment are likely pigments, not blood, while textiles experts and art historians have suggested that the materials and images are not from the right era.

As early as 1390, about 35 years after the Shroud first emerged in France, Pierre d'Arcis, the Catholic bishop in Troyes, wrote to Pope Clement VII that the shroud was "a clever sleight of hand" by someone "falsely declaring this was the actual shroud in which Jesus was enfolded in the tomb to attract the multitude so that money might cunningly be wrung from them."

In the most recent study, forensic scientists used blood pattern analysis to investigate the arm and body position necessary to yield the pattern seen on the Shroud. Using a living volunteer and a mannequin to model several positions, researchers determined that the patterns were consistent with multiple poses, which contradicts with the theory that Jesus was buried in the cloth lying down.

The authors said in the Journal of Forensic Science that they looked particularly closely at the stains of the left arm to determine consistency between the stains of the hand and the forearm. Using synthetic and real human blood throughout several experimental poses, the researchers determined that the blood patterns "would have to occur at different times, and (should the Shroud be authentic) a particular sequence of events or movements would have to be imagined to account for these patterns," they wrote.

Matteo Borrini, a forensic scientist at Liverpool John Moores University in England who worked on the project, said the effort showed how forensic research can be used in ancient investigations.

"The original idea of this test was to show the potential of forensic sciences applied outside the crime scene," Borrini said in an interview. "This is my message to my students, to see the potential of a multidisciplinary approach."

Borrini, a Roman Catholic, said his findings — which he said had resulted in backlash from certain members of the religious community and "personal attacks" — are in line with the church's position. The Roman Catholic Church considers the Shroud to be an icon, not a holy relic.

Victor Weedn, chairman of forensic sciences as George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said in an interview that while the experimental approach seemed to make sense, he was "skeptical of this analysis," saying there was no reason to believe that the body could not have been moved while being transported.

"We're not dealing with things we really know about," Weedn said. "We just don't know if this cloth was laid on someone who just laid there or was wrapped around the body or moved some before being put in a particular place."