New research from a group of Italian scientists suggests that the image of the Shroud of Turin was likely caused by neutron radiation during an earthquake in AD 33. The scientists published their findings in a paper on February 11.
In 1988, the Vatican sent a set of samples from the Shroud to be examined by several laboratories in Europe regarding the possible carbon dating of the artifact. The consensus of the results indicated that the Shroud was concocted during the medieval age, ranging somewhere between 1260 and 1390. These findings, however, did not conform to the historical timeline of the Shroud, which some historians argue could be traced back as far as the second century in Byzantium. In 1989, Phillips and Hedges published an article in the scientific magazine Nature, arguing that neutron radiations could provide an explanation for the excess amount of Carbon 14 found in the Shroud that led to the later dating. This argument was dismissed, however, since there was no reason to assume that there were any neutron emissions.
Research by Carpinteri shows otherwise. Following an observation by Russian scientists that a neutron flux of approximately three levels of magnitude over the normal level occurred during an earthquake of the 4th degree in the Richter scale, the Laboratory of Fracture Mechanics at the Politecnico di Torino conducted studies to explain the phenomenon. Their findings suggest that the fracture of very brittle rocks in compression results in the production of neutrons through a Low Energy Nuclear Reaction.
The Italian team of scientists believes that this phenomenon could account for both the inaccurate results of the carbon dating and the impression made on the Shroud, which has puzzled scientists ever since the Shroud came under public attention in 1898. According to this theory, the image is produced through thermal neutron imaging, a process similar to X-Ray imaging. According to this theory, the imprint on the cloth would be explained by the release of protons from the nitrogen atoms (creating electricity and, as a byproduct, combustion) and that reaction and the reason why the Shroud was dated to be thirteen centuries later than it was by neutron capture. The two processes convert convert N-14 to C-14, accounting for the excess of Carbon 14 and combustion, accounting for the three-dimensional imprint on the Shroud.
The theory that there was an earthquake near Passover in AD 33 is supported by both Biblical and secular sources. The Gospel according to Matthew records two instances of earthquake, one at the moment of Christ’s death and one at His Resurrection, which could be an aftershock. In addition, the first century historian Thalos records that there was an earthquake and an eclipse during Passover. That work is lost, but the account of the earthquake is preserved in Julius Africanus’ writings, who argues against Thalos that an eclipse would be impossible at the time of Passover, since Passover falls on a full moon. He, however, accepts the account of the earthquake. The NOAA records a significant earthquake in Jerusalem in AD 33 and calculates the damage to have been about $1-5 million. By calculating the seismic activity at the time, scientists have concluded that the earthquake likely registered an 8 or 9 on the Richter scale, which would provide ample neutron emissions for the reactions necessary to produce the effects seen in the Shroud.
Though the theory seems to be sound, the Shroud itself needs to be tested to see whether neutron radiation is responsible for the impression in the Shroud. This has led a group of scientists to petition Pope Francis to allow them to conduct tests in order to definitively prove the correctness of this theory and are currently waiting for the Vatican’s response. Although the Vatican has never officially made a pronouncement on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, it is clear that the general opinion is optimistic.
Pope Francis announced last month that an exposition of the Shroud would take place between April and August 2015 in Turin.