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Image Theory

What is wrong with the Shadow Shroud Hypothesis?

What is wrong with the Shadow Shroud Hypothesis? Glass!  Chemistry!  Everything!

Nathan Wilson’s use of the Father Brown detective metaphor in his article that appeared in Christianity Today was a brilliant literary device. But Wilson missed an important admonition found in all Father Brown novels: don’t jump to a conclusion before all the facts are in and all the particulars are understood.

In a segment entitled, “Shrouded in Mystery No More,” ABC World News Tonight the late Peter Jennings stated: “The Shroud of Turin has mystified scientists for years. Now a literature professor from Idaho says he can prove it’s a fake.”

The literature professor, Nathan Wilson, a 26-year-old English teacher at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho, has proposed a rather ingenious method for creating an image that looks something like the face image on the Shroud of Turin. But in reality, what Wilson has created is more unlike the Shroud of Turin than like it. I give Wilson an A for effort and good intentions. The national media, however, get an F for failing to do any basic fact checking before running this story.

On Wilson’s website, he doesn’t really claim that he proved it was a fake, which is contrary to what he told the national media. He claims was that he showed how a medieval person might have faked it. But he didn’t really do that, as we will explain here.

Wilson, recently, seems to be backing away from this claim. He is now saying on another page of his website that, “This experiment focused on the ability of a medieval to produce a photo negative image that was three dimensional, which has now been established.”

Actually, it has not been established. In fact, analysis of his images suggest that he really didn’t create an image "that was three dimensional."

What Wilson proposed, and tested, was this: paint a picture on a piece of glass, put the glass over a piece of linen in the sun for several days, and voilà, a negative image emerges on the cloth that looks something like the Shroud of Turin face. It works because the painted picture on the glass acts as a mask preventing some of the cloth from the natural bleaching action of the sun. In other words, the image is unbleached, darker colored linen.

Wilson calls his creation the Shadow Shroud. In creating a picture that visually mimics two or three qualities of the Shroud, Wilson’s method works. It works rather nicely. In fact, the movement of the sun over the painted picture on the glass — a moving shadow — creates an effect something like the so-called 3D encoding of the image on the Shroud. But that is as far as it goes. It is not three-dimensional at all.

A Simple Problem for the Shadow Shroud

It is a well known fact that the images on the Shroud of Turin are superficial. At any location on the real Shroud where there is a brownish colored image, the image is confined to the outermost two or three fibers of the thread. Look beneath them, inside the thread, and you will find near-white fibers. It is brownish only on the outside.

For example, on the real Shroud of Turin the tip of the nose is brown. That is so because a superficial color has formed there; and it is not at all deep. Chemical analysis tells us that the brown color at the surface is an amorphous caramel-like substance adhering to just a few fibers. On the other hand, the tip of the nose on Wilson’s Shadow Shroud is brown because it was not bleached by the sun. We don’t need to look beneath the surface of Wilson’s image to realize that below the top two or three fibers, the fibers will also be brown; for it is impossible with sunshine to bleach the inside of a thread without bleaching the outside.

Simple Chemistry Proves the Shadow Shroud Wrong

One need only turn to many articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals to find out about the chemistry of the image. Wilson should have done some basic research before writing his shadow shroud theory. Christianity Today’s editors should have sought out scientific opinion before publishing a pseudo-scientific article on the shadow shroud. The same can be said for ABC News. The papers in the peer-reviewed scientific journals don’t explain for certain how the images were created and they don’t opine on the Shroud’s authenticity. They only present scientific fact. (See list at right).

The image on the Turin Shroud, the very thin layer of caramel-like substance, 180-600 nanometers thick, is thinner than most bacteria . The layer can be seen by phase-contrast microscopy. And with a scanning electron microscope the fine crystalline structure of the carbohydrate layer can be discerned. The image resists normal bleaching by chemicals or by sunlight. If the image were formed by a bleaching process, particularly an absence of bleaching as Wilson’s proposes, it would bleach out.

Picture: Phase-contrast photomicrograph of a fiber and its image bearing coating. The coating is composed of starch fractions and saccharides.

The image on the Shroud of Turin can be scraped from the cloth, pulled away by adhesive and reduced with a diimide reagent, leaving colorless, undamaged linen. That cannot be the case with Wilson’s image.

Not possible with Shadow ShroudThe picture on the right is a close up some Shroud of Turin fibers. The brown color is the caramel-like product, a melanoidin; the same stuff that gives beer its color, toasted bread its brown, and bodies their tan from sunless tanning lotions.

Wilson’s proposed chemistry contradicts the scientific evidence. (See image-bearing coating picture in the right-hand column).

The Problem with Blood for the Shadow Shroud

There is the matter of the bloodstains. There is no image underneath the bloodstains. This means that wherever there was blood on the cloth it inhibited image formation. This cannot work in reverse. Wilson has failed to comprehend this problem.

The Problem of the Second Face and the Shadow Shroud

The simple fact that a second face has been discovered on the backside of the cloth is a major problem for Wilson’s Shadow Shroud. He was unaware. But when he found out about it he responded: "So, for now, I am undaunted by Fanti’s findings [=the second face], though I am aware that my confidence could yet vanish, as they say, like the morning dew."

It is not possible to superficially and selectively not bleach both sides of a cloth and bleach the inner fibers between both surfaces with sunshine. Period.

The Issue of the Shroud’s Age for the Shadow Shroud

Wilson is assuming that the cloth is medieval, created sometime in the 13th to 14th century, a timeframe based on carbon 14 dating in 1988. He is aware, that the date was challenged by by Raymond N. Rogers, a Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of California, scientist. He wrote: "but those objections [=Rogers’ findings] have only just gained definite credibility."

What in the world does he mean by "only just gained?"

He went on to write: "I have no desire to defend the carbon-dating performed on the Shroud, particularly after Rogers’ recent findings. Regardless, such artistic argumentation proves nothing."

Artistic argumentation? It is nothing of the sort. Rogers’ findings are purely scientific, published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. It is pure chemistry; pure science. Rogers not only proved that the carbon 14 samples, used in 1988, were invalid, but showed that the cloth was at least 1300 years old and possibly much older. This puts Wilson’s artistic method of painting on glass plate well beyond the time when glass plate suitable for his creation was available. 

ABC cited the 1988 carbon 14 tests and seemed unaware of the new findings. Did they not catch the news from Associated Press, BBC, Reuters, CNN and the New York Times? Did they not check their facts?

Glass – Shadow of Doubt

Shadow ShroudThe type of glass needed for Wilson’s proposed shadow shroud process did not exist in 1357, the latest possible date for the Shroud of Turin if it was a fake-relic. No one questions that the Shroud existed by then.

Yet, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that glass suitable for Wilson’s shadow shroud could be produced. The first flat plate glass wasn’t produced until 1688. Before then, plate glass was blown plate, which was rare, very limited in size and very distorted. Glass, very rare in 1356, was poor quality with many imperfections. According to the PPG Industries website:

Flat glass for windows was still rare during much of the 17th and 18th centuries. Small panes were made by blowing a large glob of glass, removing it from the blowing iron and then rotating the glass quickly so it would spread and flatten. Such glass had a dimple in its center, many air bubbles and a pattern of concentric circles, but it was transparent and effective in keeping out the weather. At the end of the 17th century, the French learned how to grind and polish cast glass to produce plate glass, but only the rich could afford it.

Great strides were made in the manufacture of flat glass during the 19th century. Compressed air technology led to flatter, better glass panes. Controlled amounts of air were used to blow a large glass cylinder, which was slit lengthwise, reheated and allowed to flatten under its own weight. Large, relatively inexpensive lites (panes) of glass were produced in this manner.

What Wilson proposes, a shadow shroud, on a cloth that is 14 feet long and 3 feet wide is simply preposterous.

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