Monday, June 16, 2008

Will Judean Desert find shed light on Shroud of Turin?

Can a 6,000-year-old shroud uncovered in the Judean Desert in 1993 help illuminate the centuries-old debate over the Shroud of Turin?

That is the question posed by Olga Negnevitsky, a conservator at the Israel Museum who was involved in the conservation of the lesser-known shroud for the Antiquities Authority after it was discovered inside a small cave near Jericho.

The idea to use the older shroud to learn more about the famous one came to Negnevitsky this week after she listened to an address on the Shroud of Turin at the International Art Conference in Jerusalem on the conservation of cultural and environmental heritage.

"If we reexamine the [Jericho] shroud with all the latest modern technology, then maybe we will find out more information that will help solve the secrets of the Shroud of Turin," Negnevitsky said Wednesday.

The finely-decorated shroud, which is 7 meters by 2 m., was found by Israeli archeologists at the entrance to what has been dubbed the Cave of the Warrior, during a search for additional Dead Sea Scrolls near Wadi el-Makkukah.

Instead of finding biblical scrolls, the archeologists stumbled on the 6,000-year-old tomb of a nobleman whose body was wrapped in an elaborate linen shroud.

The skeleton was accompanied by a long flint blade, wooden bowls, sandals of thick leather, and bows.

The shroud, like the Shroud of Turin, had signs of blood on it, likely from a wound suffered by the bandaged warrior, Negnevitsky said.

After painstaking preservation, the shroud was displayed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1998 and then at the Israel Museum in 2003 before being placed in the storeroom of the Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem, she said.

The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth, about 4.3 m. long and 90 cm. wide, that is kept in a cathedral in Turin, Italy. It bears the faint image of a blood-covered man and is believed by some to be Jesus's burial cloth.

A 1998 radiocarbon test dated the cloth from some time between 1260 and 1390 CE, ruling out any connection with Jesus.

Other studies suggested that the radiocarbon test was flawed and that the shroud was anywhere from 1,300 to 3,000 years old. Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have said that pollen and plant images on it put its origins in Jerusalem sometime before the eighth century.

Despite numerous tests carried out over the years, the Shroud of Turin, which was first documented in 1357 in Lirey, France, has remained a puzzle as debate continues over whether it is a major Christian find, a fascinating example of medieval folk art, or a fraud.

The hope is that, provided the Antiquities Authority gives the go-ahead, a comparison with the Jericho-area shroud - found relatively near where scholars believe the Shroud of Turin was discovered - will lead to a more accurate estimate of the latter shroud's age, as well as other information.

"This is another source that could shed light on the mystery of the Shroud of Turin," said Prof. Amos Notea of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, who is the Israel chairman of the conservation conference that brought together scholars from around the world.

"It was here the whole time, but no one connected it until now," Notea said.


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