ROME – A chemist who worked on testing of the Shroud of Turin (search) says new analysis of the fiber indicates the cloth that some say was the burial linen of Jesus could be up to 3,000 years old.
The analysis, by a scientist who was on the original 1978 team that was allowed to study tiny pieces of the cloth, indicates the shroud is far older than the initial findings suggesting it was probably from medieval times, and will likely be seized on by those who believe it wrapped the body of Jesus (search) after his crucifixion.
"I cannot disprove that this cloth was the burial shroud that was used on Jesus," Raymond N. Rogers, a retired chemist from the University of California-operated Los Alamos National Laboratory (search) in New Mexico, said in a telephone interview Friday from his home.
"The chemistry says it was a real shroud, the blood spots on it are real blood, and the technology that was used to make that piece of cloth was exactly what Pliny the Elder reported fort his time," about 70 A.D., Rogers said, referring to the naturalist of ancient Roman times.
"It's a shroud from the right time, but you're never going to find out (through science) if it was used on a person named Jesus," said Rogers, whose findings were published recently in the scientific journal Thermochimica Acta.
Rogers wrote that in 2003, the scientist advising the cardinal of Turin, where the shroud is kept, provided him with pieces of thread taken from the radiocarbon sample before it was distributed for dating.
The American chemist said he decided to analyze the amount of vanillin, a chemical compound that is present in linen from the flax fibers used to weave it. Vanillin slowly disappears from the fiber over time at a calculated rate, he said.
Judging by those calculations, a medieval-age cloth should have had some 37 percent of its vanillin left by 1978, the year the threads were taken from the shroud, Rogers said. But there was virtually no vanillin left in the shroud, leading the chemist to calculate it could be far older than the radiocarbon testing indicated, possibly some 3,000 years old.
Asked why carbon-dating might have been off, Rogers contended that "the people who cut the sample didn't do a very good job of characterizing the samples," that is, taking samples from many areas of the cloth.
Rogers said he sent the results of his vanillin testing to the offices of the Turin cardinal and his scientific advisers but hasn't received a response.
The Vatican, which does not claim that the shroud is authentic, said Saturday it had not comment on the new testing. Officials at the Turin archdiocese could not be reached for comment.
The chemist said he doubted the shroud could be reliably tested any more, contending that a top-secret restoration in 2002 likely would influence chemical results.
In the restoration, centuries' old patches were removed and a backing sewn on centuries ago was replaced. At the time, Shroud experts around the world were angered by the project, which they said should have had more outside collaboration.
The Shroud is a strip of linen more than four meters (about 14 feet) long and one-meter (3 1/2-feet) wide that is marked by an image of Jesus. Believers say the image was left by Jesus' body after being taken down from the cross.
Disputes have flourished over the 1988 declaration by the scientific team that carbon-dating indicated the cloth came from medieval times. Researchers at The Hebrew University has said that pollen and plant images on it put its origins in Jerusalem sometime before the eighth century.