Unraveling the Shroud of Turin
STEVEN D. SCHAFERSMAN
Department of Science and Mathematics
The University of Texas of the Permian Basin
The following article from Approfondimento Sindone, Year II, vol. 2, 1998, is reprinted with the permission of the publisher. Copyright © 1998 by Centro Studi Medievali (Pontremoli MS, Italy). Nothing may be copied or reproduced in any form without the written permission of the publisher.
Introduction This paper has two purposes: First, a response to the specific statements by Paul Maloney (1) about the alleged pollen on the Shroud of Turin, and second, a brief summary of the convincing empirical evidence that makes it clear that the Shroud is a fourteenth-century artifact and not a first-century archaeological object. The Shroud of Turin is a notorious religious relic that, without the tremendous pseudoscientific support put forward in recent years to popularize its authenticity, would be as ignored and ridiculed by reasonable people today as are pieces of the true cross and nail clippings and foreskins of Jesus. The past efforts by some individuals, with scientific or technical training and access to scientific equipment, to promote the Shroud's authenticity by presenting irrelevant, misinterpreted, fudged, and even fraudulent data and interpretations--while at the same time ignoring, misunderstanding, misrepresenting, and clumsily explaining-away reliable evidence against authenticity--are nothing short of astonishing, and have put the Turin Shroud firmly in the pantheon of pseudoscience. The saddest aspect of the Shroud story is that these unfortunate efforts continue today--as if evidence, logical reasoning, skepticism, and analytical thinking are irrelevant when religious relics are concerned.
In a method shared with William Meacham (2) in 1983, Paul Maloney1 presumptuously discusses the authenticity of the Shroud from an archaeological point of view. Meacham famously concluded that the archaeological evidence showed that the Shroud was authentic, while Dr. Maloney much less provocatively concludes that, while science and archaeology can never unequivocally prove the Shroud authentic, nevertheless so many questions remain--and so many analyses suggest authenticity--that science, history, archaeology, and medicine can build a case consistent with the Gospel narrative. Further, since scientific data are currently inadequate to finally end the controversy and firmly demonstrate authenticity, a new comprehensive examination of the Shroud is needed.
Unfortunately for this shared method and viewpoint, the status of the Shroud as an archaeological specimen--and not, for example, as an artifact or fraudulent relic--must not be presumed and presented as a proposition, but must first be the conclusion of logical arguments based on empirical evidence, and this has never been done. In fact, the opposite is true: the Shroud has been demonstrated by appropriate arguments and evidence to be a medieval artifact, contrived by a fourteenth-century artist for the purpose of representing the burial shroud of Jesus and creating a religious relic for exhibition and veneration. All the historical, artistic, iconographical, and scientific evidence compels one to accept this conclusion. No further examinations or tests of the Shroud are needed: the Shroud of Turin is not the burial shroud of Jesus, and certain individuals, authors3, magazines4, organizations5, and institutions6 should stop the unseemly exploitation of it as if it were or as if it could be.
Pollen on the Shroud of Turin Dr. Paul Maloney, like other pro-authenticity supporters, attempts to use Max Frei's pollen data to support the authenticity of the Shroud and explain away the objections of others--primarily my own objections. I was the first person7 to publicly claim and document that, for a number of reasons, Max Frei's pollen data could not possibly be true, and his conclusions were incredible and could not be taken seriously. Contrary to some commentators, including Dr. Maloney, I did not claim that Max Frei was unquestionably responsible himself for putting the pollen on his sticky tapes and then falsely claiming that he found this pollen on his Shroud samples, only that his claims were so extremely unlikely that deliberate deception was far more probable than the veracity of the results that Frei claimed to achieve. Although I certainly did believe--and said as much--that Max Frei himself spiked his slides with Palestinian, Turkish, French, and Italian pollen, and plainly stated that Frei falsely claimed to have found dozens8 of endemic species of pollen on his Shroud tape samples, thereby perpetrating a fraud, I must obviously leave open the possibility--as preposterous as it may be--that someone else did the dirty deed and Frei innocently found the pollens and was duped. But I can't think of anyone else who might have wanted to deceive him, or would have the means to do so. After all, it was Max Frei alone who made repeated trips to Turkey and the Holy Land to collect endemic plants and microscopically examine, catalogue, and photograph their pollen. Photomicrographs of this collected pollen were the ones Frei illustrated when he claimed either that these were specimens taken from the Shroud itself or were examples of pollen of the same species that he observed on his sticky tape samples taken from the Shroud.
Palynologists know that it is almost impossible to identify unknown pollens to species, since the pollen of related plant species are often identical.9 Max Frei, however, had collected considerable comparative material, and he claimed that the pollens he allegedly found on the Shroud were exactly identical to those he had collected in the Middle East and illustrated. If what he was claiming about the pollen was true, he would indeed have strong evidence that the Shroud was at one time physically located in Palestine and Turkey (specifically Jerusalem, Anatolia (Edessa), and Byzantium/Istanbul), so it was possible to give him the benefit of the doubt on this point. In 1982, therefore, I used other arguments against Frei's claims:7
Frei's pollen precisely supported an author's fantastic chronology10 of how the Shroud made it from Jerusalem to Edessa to Constantinople/Byzantium to France, a travelogue totally unsupported by any credible historical or scientific evidence, and this match seemed to me to be too coincidental to be true. Frei's pollen data, in fact, remain to this day the only empirical "evidence" that the Shroud was ever in the Holy Land or Turkey, which is probably why such evidence is still matter-of-factly discussed today by Shroud researchers despite its overwhelmingly fraudulent character.
The sticky tape samples examined by other Shroud investigators, including STURP11 and Walter McCrone12, found very few pollen grains. In fact, as revealed much later, even Max Frei's own sticky tape samples contain very few pollen grains (with one exception, discussed below).13 I knew that the number of pollen grains on these samples was far too few to account for the large number of different species that Max Frei claimed to have found.
I noted that many of the endemic Palestinian and Turkish plants whose pollen Max Frei claimed to have discovered on the Shroud were insect-pollinated, and this makes it extremely unlikely that their pollen could have been transported to the Shroud by the wind. The pollen of such plants is retained by the plants in special organs and can be removed and transported only by the appropriate pollinating insect species; furthermore, such pollen is not adapted to travel by wind, and would not go anywhere even if somehow it came loose from the flowers.
I also demonstrated that it would be essentially impossible (I used the term "miraculous") for the pollen of so many particular Middle Eastern endemic plants from such specific localities to reach Europe by natural winds, while the pollen from many more regions did not fall on the Shroud in France. Long-distance transport of pollen was STURP's explanation for dismissing Frei's data, but it was so ridiculous that Frei's authenticity claim was actually more plausible! I speculated that STURP did not believe or want to be associated with Max Frei's pollen claims, but they did not want to publicly state, as I was willing to do, that fraud was involved, so they concocted the outrageous explanation of intercontinental wind transport of pollen.
I stated that the overwhelming independent historical, artistic, and scientific evidence that the Shroud is a medieval artifact created by a fourteenth-century artist in France was sufficient reason alone to doubt that the Shroud had ever been in Palestine or Turkey, and that Frei's results were therefore strongly suspect--so suspect, in fact, that they could not be taken seriously. Now, with the radiocarbon dating, this argument is even stronger.
I now find that Dr. Maloney has attempted to use my own words against me, while ignoring the essentials of my arguments against Frei's pollen claims. Although twice emphasizing my belief that the Shroud is not authentic, he claims I had no "objective foundation" to state that Max Frei himself probably placed the Middle Eastern pollen he had collected on the tapes (or simply and falsely claimed that he had found such pollen on the tapes). Dr. Maloney quotes a long passage of mine in which I document the extreme unlikeliness that wind-transported pollen could travel more than a very short distance from the source plants, thereby refuting the STURP explanation and affirming how excellent Frei's findings would be, if true, that the Shroud had been in Palestine and Turkey. Needless to say, I was being ironic, since my whole point was to assert that Frei's data were, in fact, too good to be true.
Dr. Maloney also correctly quotes my insight that many of the pollen species that Max Frei claimed to have found on the Shroud were insect-pollinated species, and thus could not be expected in wind-distributed assemblages. With the references at my disposal, I could only determine this fact with respect to eight genera, therefore I am delighted to learn from Dr. Maloney's paper that Dr. A. Orville Dahl, an atmospheric palynologist, determined that no less than 32 of Max Frei's 57 species are insect-pollinated! Dr. Dahl, to his credit, correctly concluded that their presence on Frei's Shroud tape samples "must be due not to wind-borne deposition but to human activity of some sort since these pollen types are not transported any distance at all by wind."1 This was, of course, precisely my conclusion in 1982. Dr. Maloney believes this pollen found its way on the Shroud by celebrants placing flowers on the Shroud and their pollen fell off and stuck to the fibers!1 The overreaching quality of this simple-minded explanation appears to be lost on Dr. Maloney, who would have us believe that Shroud celebrants in Palestine, Anatolia, and Byzantium placed desert and salt-soil plants (most of the Middle Eastern species were xerophytes and halophytes) directly on the Shroud at the exact time all of these species were pollinating, and then pollinating insects came and removed and fortuitously dropped the pollen on the Shroud fibers (because the pollen of entomophilous flowers just doesn't fall out--the pollen must be physically removed by some mechanism, either insect or human!). Perhaps part of Shroud liturgical rituals in the first millennium involved the scrapping of pollen from flowers directly onto the Shroud.14
Dr. Maloney also explains the STURP team's lack of success in finding significant pollen on their sticky tapes by their use of a torque applicator (so as not to damage the Shroud). Max Frei, on the other hand, in both 1973 and 1978 used a simple cellophane tape dispenser to take his samples by pressing the tape down onto the cloth using his fingers (to the alarm of the watching STURP participants!). By this method, as Max Frei explained to Dr. Maloney1, he was able to secure samples of pollen between the threads of the Shroud, thus allowing him to discover 57 species when other investigators could find little or none. If we are to believe this, then we must also believe that almost all of the pollen on the Shroud worked its way by some mechanism down into the fibers, so that little or no pollen remained on the surface of the cloth to be retrieved by the tapes of unluckier investigators. And that's only if we accept the concept--which I do not--that Max Frei's special technique was the only way that pollen from between the fibers could be collected. So Dr. Maloney is overreaching again.
Fortunately, as alluded to briefly above13, Max Frei's own tape samples were examined by independent investigators in 1986 (five tapes) and 1988 (all 26 tapes), including by Walter McCrone, and--with one exception--were found to contain insignificant amounts of pollen, far too little to account for 57 different species of plants. Walter McCrone estimated that all of Frei's slides could contain no more than 100 pollen grains with about one pollen grain per square centimetre, a density, by the way, exactly the same as observed on the STURP tape samples! There was, however, that one exception: the "lead" (that is, one end of the tape on the slide) of slide 6-B/d contained dozens of pollen grains within a 2-3 square millimetre area, many more pollens than all of the other 25 tape samples combined.13 McCrone at first diplomatically called this extreme concentration of pollen "contamination," but he later admitted13 that it appeared that the tape lead had been pulled back and the pollens introduced by human "skullduggery." In addition, the same lead of slide 6-B/d contains dozens of cotton fibers from Max Frei's glove, apparently left there when the pollens were inserted, since there should be no cotton fiber contamination on a tape properly placed on the Shroud, and, indeed, the other 25 slides did not reveal these cotton fibers, but only linen fibers with red ochre pigment particles (identical to the STURP tape samples that McCrone first examined). Paul Maloney knows this history and these facts (in fact, he provided the photo of slide 6-B/d that Joe Nickell used to illustrate his article13), but he ignores them in his paper.
Finally, Dr. Maloney1 objects to my conclusion that Max Frei spiked his tape samples with Middle Eastern and falsified his true findings, by stating that my "suggestion is unfair because it needlessly impugns another man's reputation." I answered this objection in some detail in my 1982 paper15, since I was accused then of exactly the same thing, so I won't repeat my arguments here. Much later, in 199413, I learned that Max Frei had pronounced as genuine the forged "Hitler Diaries," and that he had "been several times found guilty and was censured" by the police administration in Switzerland for "overenthusiastic interpretation of his evidence," in other words, for faking his results to make it easier to obtain convictions, as a number of other forensic scientists have been accused of doing recently in the United States. His Basel counterpart expressed surprise that Max Frei was able to keep his position as head of the police crime lab in Zurich. Dr. Maloney knows this history and these facts, too, so I will thank him for not needlessly impugning my reputation in the future by his continued defense of Max Frei's "reputation."
And while we are on this subject of reputations, what is Dr. Maloney's purpose in recounting his story of how he "submitted" Max Frei's tainted pollen data to legitimate, presumably neutral pollen and botanical authorities such as Dr. Orville Dahl, Dr. Aharon Horowitz, Dr. Avinoam Danin, and Dr. Shokry Ibrahaim Saad, "requested" their professional "evaluation," and then published their observations which support Maloney and Frei's thesis1? In my opinion, Dr. Maloney is involving these neutral scientists and their reputations in a complicity to legitimatize Max Frei's data and conclusions and make it appear that there is widespread scientific support for them, when in fact there is none. In my experience, this is classic pseudoscience, and I object to such conduct. These individual scientists may not want their names associated with the conclusion that Frei's pollen data sup