Aug. 3, 1999 ST. LOUIS, MO. August 2, 1999 -- An analysis of pollen grains and plant images places the origin of the "Shroud of Turin," thought by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, in Jerusalem before the 8th Century. The authenticity of the Shroud has been debated for centuries, with a 1988 carbon dating process placing it in the Middle Ages.
Botanist Avinoam Danin of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem determined the origin of the Shroud based on a comprehensive analysis of pollen taken from the Shroud and plant images associated with the Shroud. The review of plant and pollen evidence is being published by the Missouri Botanical Garden Press as Flora of the Shroud of Turin by Danin, Alan Whanger, Mary Whanger , and Uri Baruch. The peer-reviewed publication will be available in late summer.
Danin presented his research findings at a lecture series held in conjunction with the XVI International Botanical Congress. More than 4,000 scientists from 100 countries are meeting in St. Louis this week to discuss the latest research on plants for human survival and improved quality of life. Held only once every six years, the International Botanical Congress last met in the United States in 1969, when it was held in Seattle, Washington.
Danin's analysis suggests that flowers and other plant materials were placed on the Shroud of Turin, leaving pollen grains and imprints of plants and flowers on the linen cloth. In addition to the image of a crucified man, the cloth also contains faint images of plants. Tentatively identifying the plant images through a method of image comparison known as Polarized Image Overlay Technique (PIOT), Alan and Mary Whanger have reported that the flowers were from the Near East region and that the Shroud originated in early centuries. Analysis of the floral images by Danin and an analysis of the pollen grains by Uri Baruch identify a combination of certain species that could be found only in the months of March and April in the region of Jerusalem during that time.
The analysis positively identifies a high density of pollen of the thistle Gundelia tournefortii which has bloomed in Israel between March and May for millennia. An image of the plant can be seen near the image of the man's shoulder. It has been hypothesized by the Whangers, who have researched the Shroud for decades, that this is the plant used for the "crown of thorns" on Jesus' head.
Two pollen grains of this species were also found on the Sudarium of Oviedo, widely accepted as the burial face cloth of Jesus. The location of the Sudarium has been documented from the 1st Century and it has resided in the Cathedral of Oviedo in Spain since the 8th Century. Both cloths also carry type AB blood stains, although some argue that ancient blood types are hard to interpret. What is clear is that the blood stains on both cloths are in a similar pattern.
"There is no way that similar patterns of blood stains, probably of the identical blood type, with the same type of pollen grains, could not be synchronic - covering the same body," Danin stated. "The pollen association and the similarities in the blood stains in the two cloths provide clear evidence that the Shroud originated before the 8th Century."
Danin stated that this botanical research disputes the validity of the claim that the Shroud was from Europe during the Middle Ages, as many researchers had concluded in 1988 based on carbon-14 dating tests. The authors do not question the accuracy of the carbon-14 dating test which was done on only a single sample taken from one highly contaminated corner of the shroud, he said. However, their research looked at pollen grains and images from the entire piece of fabric and compared them with a fabric that has a documented history.
Another plant seen in a clear image on the Shroud is of the Zygophyllum dumosum species, according to the paper. This is a native plant with an unusual leaf morphology, displaying paired leaflets on the ends of leaf petiole of the current year during the beginning of winter.
Gundelia tournefortii and Zygophyllum dumosum coexist in a limited area, according to Danin, a leading authority on plants of Israel. The area is bounded by lines linking Jerusalem and Hebron in Israel and Madaba and Karak in Jordan. The area is anchored toward the Jerusalem-Hebron zone with the addition of a third species, Cistus creticus, identified as being placed on the Shroud through an analysis of pollen and floral imaging.
"This combination of flowers can be found in only one region of the world," Danin stated. "The evidence clearly points to a floral grouping from the area surrounding Jerusalem."
Danin stated that the evidence revealing these species on the Shroud suggests that they were placed with the body prior to the process that caused the formation of images on the cloth. According to Danin, his findings corroborate the following sequence of events:
* Laying the body on the linen;
* Placing flowering plants and other objects along with the body;
* Folding the cloth over the body;
* Initiation of the process that caused the formation of the images.
Images of Capparis aegyptia flowers, which display a distinctive pattern during daylight hours, have also been seen on the Shroud. The process of buds opening ceases when the flowers are picked and no water is supplied. The images of these flowers on the Shroud suggest they were picked in the Judean Desert or the Dead Sea Valley between 3 and 4 p.m. on the day they were placed on the Shroud.
The images of the flowers on the Shroud are also depicted in art of the early centuries, according to the upcoming publication. Early icons on some 7th century coins portray a number of flower images that accurately match floral images seen on the Shroud today, according to PIOT analysis by the Whangers. The researchers suggest that the faint images on the Shroud were probably clearer in earlier centuries.
Botanical investigation of the Shroud began with Max Frei's 1973 observations of pollen grains on the Shroud, which he sampled by means of sticky tape. Frei took a second set of 27 sticky tape samples from the Shroud during the scientific study in 1978. In 1979 he took 46 sticky tape samples from the Sudarium of Oviedo. In 1983 faint floral images on the Shroud linen were noted by O. Scheuermann, and subsequently in 1985 by the Whangers. Botanist Avinoam Danin began collaborating with Shroud researchers Alan and Mary Whanger in 1995. They were joined by Israeli pollen expert Uri Baruch in 1998. Frei's Shroud botanical collections were acquired in 1994 by the Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin (CSST) and became the resource for this study which analyzed 313 pollen grains.
The burial cloth known today as the Shroud of Turin is a linen rectangle measuring 4.35 meters by 1.1 meter. It has been kept in the city of Turin (Torino), Italy, since 1578. In 1694, the Shroud was placed in a special chapel within the Italian cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Except for a brief period during World War II when the cloth was moved elsewhere for safety, the Shroud remained in this cathedral until the night of April 11, 1997, when a raging fire necessitated its removal. The Shroud was not damaged, and was kept elsewhere in the city until it again was placed in the cathedral for public display from April 18 through June 14, 1998.
While there have long been historical, literary, and artistic claims that the Shroud represents the authentic burial cloth of Jesus, there has been little scientific evidence to support this. In 1988, carbon-14 dating of a single sample from a corner of the Shroud was identified to be from 1260 to 1390 A.D., leading to the widespread conclusion that the entire Shroud was from the Medieval period.
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