Did an Earthquake Create the Turin Shroud?

Last week I read a claim that the Turin Shroud could in fact date from the time of Christ and is not a medieval forgery.

The reason for believing it to be a forgery is the fact that three independent tests have “concluded with 95% confidence that the shroud material dated to 1260–1390 AD”. So what does the Telegraph’s Science Correspondent have that might necessitate a rethink?

It would appear that:

… a new study claims that an earthquake in Jerusalem in 33AD may have not only created the image but may also have skewed the dating results.

The Italian team believes the powerful magnitude 8.2 earthquake would have been strong enough to release neutron particles from crushed rock.

This flood of neutrons may have imprinted an X-ray-like image onto the linen burial cloth, say the researchers.

In addition, the radiation emissions would have increased the level of carbon-14 isotopes in the Shroud, which would make it appear younger.

The story is based on this paper.

Let’s take this from the top.

First off, was there an earthquake? The Bible (Matthew27 verses 50 -54) says there was but there is no independent evidence that this occurred and in any event Matthew says that the earthquake was at the point of Christ’s death – ie when he was still on the cross and not wrapped in his burial shroud.

Second. Do earthquakes release neutrons? I cannot find any evidence that they do and frankly this does not surprise me. It is customary in the press to state that the energy release from an earthquake is x (where x is a large number) times that of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima and we all know that released radiation so …

However, the energy release of that bomb was from about 60 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. The energy of an earthquake is spread through hundreds if not thousands of cubic kilometres of rock so the energy density is on the order of a trillionth of a nuclear explosion.

Third , if this neutron flux was sufficient to produce images on linen, how come everyone walking around Judea at the time did not have images of their genitals imprinted on their underwear? I’m sure that if it happened, the gospel writers and the Romans would have noted and commented on it.

Fourthly, while it is true that neutrons interact with N-14 to produce C-14 and protons, anomalous carbon isotope distribution would have occurred all over the region and I think archaeologists would have noticed such anomalous results by now.

So the earthquake would have to produce a tightly focussed neutron beam by some unexplained mechanism. Sounds more like a weapon out of Star Trek.

Frankly, speaking as an atheist, this all sounds somewhat less plausible than a divine miracle. The fact is, as stated above, the shroud’s image was created in Medieval times but if the choice is truly between “Goddidit” and this pseudoscientific clap-trap then I’ll go for God on the grounds of plausibility.

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