Final results of the radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin show that the cloth was made about 1280 A.D. and the image of a crucified man created on it after that, Cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero, Archbishop of Turin, announced yesterday.
The cloth has been venerated for centuries as the burial sheet of Jesus despite 14th- and 15th-century records which indicated that the cloth was a fake. Millions of pilgrims filed past the cloth when it was last put on public display in Turin 10 years ago.
At a news conference in Turin, Ballestrero said the church has never claimed the shroud to be a holy relic. He added that although the date of the cloth is now known, the shroud will remain an object of veneration because the image on it is remarkable. The archbishop's scientific adviser said that no one knows how the image was made, adding that it is an important work of medieval Christian art.
A faded, straw-colored image of the front and back of a crucified man is on the 14-by-3 1/2-foot winding sheet.
Three laboratories in the United States, Britain and Switzerland simultaneously tested the cloth and their results were in close agreement. To a 95 percent certainty, the cloth was made between 1260 and 1380 A.D. There is a virtually 100 percent certainty that the cloth was made after 1200 A.D.
The results showed that the most likely date that the flax was cut to make the linen in the cloth was about 1280 A.D.
"This agrees very well with the historical story," said Paul Damon of the University of Arizona, who worked on the dating. Historians have said the shroud first appeared about 1353, when it was given by French knight Geoffroy de Charny as gift for the building of a new church in Lirey, France.
The method used to date the cloth compares the amount of ordinary carbon in plants and other living things to the small amount of radioactive carbon-14 they absorb while alive. The carbon-14 begins to decay as soon as the plant, in this case flax, dies. Scientists know how much carbon-14 should be present for given dates in the past.
To check accuracy of the three labs' work, each was sent a centimeter-sized bit cut from the shroud and three other control samples, including a piece of cloth from Cleopatra's mummy, about the first century B.C.; a Nubian tomb cloth from the 11th century A.D., and a piece of ceremonial garb from St. Louis d'Anjou from the 14th century.
Multiple tests of all the samples showed the labs' results "in very tight agreement," Damon said.