The Definitive Shroud of Turin FAQ

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What was the reaction to the 1988 carbon dating?

When the carbon dating results for the shroud of Turin were announced. many who already were convinced (or hoped) it was a fake, were gleeful. But those who had become convinced from the avalanche of historical and other scientific evidence—some of it good and some of it bad, some of it interpreted one way or another—were sure that there must be something wrong with the carbon dating. They argued so. And they expressed their frustration.

Physicist Peter Carr would later write words that expressed that frustration.

When the testing was complete, the scientist reported their findings . . . giving the age as 1260 to 1390, therefore the cloth was mediaeval. This was the limit to their remit, to date the cloth. But they exceeded their remit by making comments about the nature of the cloth, ie that the shroud was a mediaeval forgery. In making such a sweeping statement, they showed complete arrogance of other disciplines and a blind faith in a piece of technology. No self respecting scientist would be so bold. They ignored, or were ignorant of the wealth of historical information that shows that a cloth of some form has been in existence for many centuries, and it predates the carbon dates. The carbon dating information should have been presented along side all other information, and an objective discussion taken place.

If arrogance was a strong word to use, it seemed justified. The official press conference to announce the results really didn’t go beyond the boundaries of science. Journalists did that. The photograph that appeared along with the story told the story. There were three people in the picture. There was Teddy (Edward Thomas) Hall, the director of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at Oxford who had previously played a significant role in exposing the Piltdown Man hoax.  There was Robert Hedges also from Oxford and Michael Tite of the British Museum. The dates 1260 to 1390 with a big explanation mark were written on the blackboard behind them. The faces and the body language seemed arrogant, at least to those who are not happy with the announcement. Perhaps there was nothing of the sort in those faces or in the way Hall crossed his arms in front of his chest. Perhaps it was an unfortunate Kodak moment.

But it wasn’t the frustration steeped with emotion that caused people to question the carbon dating. The picture in the Hungarian Pray Codex, the very convincing history from Constantinople, the apparent pollen data, the mysterious and so far inexplicable image characteristics, the forensic pathology all combined to trigger a cascade of research.

 

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