The Turin Shroud - a physicist’s view

24 October 2011

Dr Zajac, a research scientist at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences, gave an interesting and informative lecture regarding scientific tests performed on a small part of the Turin shroud at the IOP on 5 October.

The Turin Shroud - a physicist’s view
Dr Barbara Gabrys and Dr Wojciech Zajac

The Linen cloth had been kept in Turin Cathedral since 1578 (except: 1939-1946 when it was at Montevergine Monastery, and 1997-1998, place undisclosed, after 1997 Cathedral blaze) but documented history begins in 1349 in France. 

The famous photograph taken by Secando Pia was displayed; this shows a straw coloured image of a naked man consistent with the biblical description of the death of Jesus. The image can only be seen in a recognisable form from a distance. 

Recent findings indicate that the image was formed in a layer made of starch fractions and various saccharides, coating the outermost fibrils of the fabric threads (up to ca. 55 µm in depth). 

The underlying celluose appears no to be modified in any sense, contrary to what had been maintained over years. The image on the linen is not a photograph as colouring intensity changes with object distance. An UP image analyser gives a 3D relief. 

Radio Carbon dating suggests that the linen sample tested was formed between 1260 and 1350. This fascinating talk explained that while no definitive answers are known, sensible hypotheses have been formulated. 

This is what the scientific method, applied in a methodologically rigorous way, can offer. The so called “authenticity issue” was not addressed nor even a position taken in the dispute, as it exceeds the scope of physics, chemistry or even forensic sciences.

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