The controversial Shroud of Turin, the existence of which was first recorded in France in 1357, is believed by many to have wrapped the body of Jesus Christ after his death in Jerusalem, while many critics have insisted it is a shroud that was used to wrap the body of a man who died in the Middle Ages.
Regardless, last year, at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco, a new method of dating the shroud was presented that would “stand to revolutionize radiocarbon dating.”
It’s called “non-destructive carbon dating.”
Conventional carbon dating estimates an artifact’s age based on the rate of decay of carbon-14, a carbon that exists in all living things. Scientists take a small sample from the object, treat it with a strong acid and a strong base, and then burn it in a glass chamber to produce carbon dioxide. They then compare the levels of carbon-14 in the object to the levels expected to have been in the atmosphere during a particular period of history.
In non-destructive carbon dating, the steps of sampling, acid-base washing and burning are eliminated. Instead, the object is placed in a special chamber with plasma, which is electrically charged gas. The gas gently oxidizes the object’s surface without damaging it and produces carbon dioxide.
In the late 1980s, carbon dating studies were carried out on the shroud of Turin by three different labs and suggested that it had been made between 1260 and 1390, much after the Jesus’ time. According to National Geographic, another study in 2005 asserted that the shroud is actually 1,300 to 3,000 years old. Additionally, other scientists, such as Ray Rogers, who helped lead the Shroud of Turin Research Project in the ‘80s, have hypothesized that the piece of the shroud tested in the ‘80s was a patch of fabric that had been repaired in the 16th century and that the rest of the shroud was much older.
According to Discovery News, Professor Emeritus at Texas A&M University College Station, Marvin Rowe, said that with the shroud of Turin, “We would roll the cloth into as tight a package as we can make it” and then carry out the non-destructive carbon dating.
So far, Rowe and his team have used non-destructive carbon dating to analyze the ages of around 20 different objects, including leather, rabbit hair, charcoal, wood and a bone with mummified flesh attached. He says the results match those of traditional carbon dating techniques.
However, the team admits that it will most likely take a significant amount of information to convince art conservators, museum directors and possibly the Vatican that the new dating method causes no damage.