This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.
The Shroud of Turin, the supposed burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, has remained an object of fascination for the Christian faithful and scientists alike. Those who would suggest a supernatural origin nearly 2,000 years ago must contend with radiocarbon evidence, which dates the shroud to approximately the 13th or 14th Centuries. Those who would suggest a medieval European origin must contend with a rather large controversy over the accuracy of the sample used for dating, as well as historical evidence to the contrary. Additionally, despite extensive analysis, nobody knows how the image of a buried man was created on the shroud. In Facebook terms, the shroud’s status remains “complicated.”
Now, Italian researchers have added to the mystery. By sequencing the DNA of pollen and other dust particles taken from the shroud, the authors have been able to determine the types of plants and the biogeographic origin of people who have come into contact with it. Their results are depicted below:
As shown, the shroud has been contaminated with DNA from plants that can be found all over the world. Similarly, their analysis of human DNA showed haplogroups from people originating in Europe, south Asia, eastern Africa, and the Middle East. So, what does this mean?
It’s hard to say. According to legend, the shroud moved around quite a bit, from Jerusalem to Turkey to France and to its final resting place in Turin, Italy. The DNA evidence confirms that many different people, from many different places, got their hands on or near the shroud.
What still remains unclear is the shroud’s origin. The DNA evidence is consistent with more than one explanation: (1) The shroud really did originate in Israel and traveled extensively before making its way to Italy, or (2) The shroud was created in medieval Europe, but worshipers (and plants) from all over the world that made their way to Europe contaminated it. The authors cannot rule out either explanation. (Intriguingly, the authors suggested that the DNA evidence linked to people from India hints that the shroud may have been weaved there.)
For now, despite this rich new body of evidence, it seems the Shroud of Turin will remain shrouded in mystery.
Source: Gianni Barcaccia, Giulio Galla, Alessandro Achilli, Anna Olivieri & Antonio Torroni. “Uncovering the sources of DNA found on the Turin Shroud.” Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 14484. Published online: 5-Oct-2015. doi:10.1038/srep14484