Age dating paper

The first proposal to date the Shroud was submitted in 1979 by Gove and Harbottle (published in Sox 191-167).

It was, in my opinion, seriously flawed by the lack of consultation with archaeologists and experts from other fields.

In recent discussions on the possible authenticity of the Turin Shroud (Sox 1981: Meacham 1983: Jumper et al 1984), the question of the value of C-14 dating persistently recurs.

Virtually all researchers agree that the test should be performed; sufficiently small samples can now be measured so that the appearance of the relic is not altered.

As I shall endeavor to demonstrate below, the radiocarbon measurement of the Shroud is a complex issue, and the inclusion of all relevant expertise is highly important.

In May, 1985, I submitted such a proposal to Cardinal Ballestrero, Archbishop of Turin and official custodian of the relic, in the hope that the ecclesiastical authorities would consider appointing a scientific panel to plan and implement a C14 testing program.

Possibilities of contamination should be exhaustively investigated, and pretreatment should be devised accordingly.

Much worse, the 1979 proposal involved a small sample of cloth removed from the Shroud in 1973 for study by Prof. Mc Crone and Sox had inspected the sample (apparently unstitched by Raes into two pieces) during a visit with Raes in 1976, and found that "the samples were kept in what looked like an old scrapbook for postage stamps" (Sox: 19).

That "C-14 dating is, after all, only another tool for the archaeologist, but it behooves us, before attempting to use it, to know which end has been sharpened." In both the comment and in Shroud writing generally, there is exhibited a lack of awareness of the pitfalls and uncertainties inherent in the C-14 method.

To quote from the comments, Alcock said it was "sheer whimsy" to raise the question of contamination; Mc Crone claimed that "the impurities can be readily removed before dating, hence this argument has no validity''; Maloney thought that "the margins of error supplied with each date (give) a measure of accuracy" in the elimination of contaminants; Schafersman claimed that the idea of contamination was "absurd".

There is consensus now that, had the testing been allowed, it would have been the cause of great controversy regardless of the results.

Yet Gove, in urging the release of the Raes samples, wrote that "at long last, the Shroud of Turin's true age will be established in the near future." Before considering the recent proposals for dating the cloth, it is useful to survey the major problems routinely encountered in the field of C-14 dating.

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Reviewing recent Shroud literature of all persuasions, I find little awareness of the limitations of the C-14 method, an urge to "date first and ask questions later," and a general disregard for the close collaboration between field and laboratory personnel which is the ideal in archaeometric projects.

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