Controversy over carbon dating

Possibilities of contamination should be exhaustively investigated, and pretreatment should be devised accordingly.In 1979, the much vaunted "Gove/Harbottle Proposal on Carbon Dating the Shroud" (Sox 197) outlined only standard pretreatment of the samples for carbonates and humic acids.When I wrote in (199) that C-14 dating could not be expected to settle the matter of the Shroud's age and authenticity because of the possibilities of contamination, there was a storm of criticism -- virtually all of it motivated by ideal sample considerations and obviously not tempered by experience in using the method.Stuckenrath (197) certainly had it right 20 years ago in his remark.Jumper et al (196) claimed that the test "if 'negative', i.e.not first century, can prove lack of authenticity" (emphasis added).There is consensus now that, had the testing been allowed, it would have been the cause of great controversy regardless of the results.

Much worse, the 1979 proposal involved a small sample of cloth removed from the Shroud in 1973 for study by Prof. Mc Crone and Sox had inspected the sample (apparently unstitched by Raes into two pieces) during a visit with Raes in 1976, and found that "the samples were kept in what looked like an old scrapbook for postage stamps" (Sox: 19).

As I shall endeavor to demonstrate below, the radiocarbon measurement of the Shroud is a complex issue, and the inclusion of all relevant expertise is highly important.

In May, 1985, I submitted such a proposal to Cardinal Ballestrero, Archbishop of Turin and official custodian of the relic, in the hope that the ecclesiastical authorities would consider appointing a scientific panel to plan and implement a C14 testing program.

In this paper I shall examine the issue of the reliability of C-14 testing to produce an "absolute date" on the linen sheet known as the Holy Shroud of Turin and believed by some to be the gravecloth of Christ.

I have previously (Meacham 1983) treated the question of the Shroud's authenticity at length and shall confine my remarks here to the applicability and ultimate reliability of radiocarbon as an "authenticity test" of the relic.

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Several C-14 dating proposals are now under consideration by the Archbishop of Turin.

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