The Turin Shroud is probably the most controversial religious relic in the world. It's believed by some to be the burial cloth of Christ. Could DNA evidence solve the mystery of the shroud once and for all or just add to the puzzle?
The Image of the Shroud of Turin
A fourteenth century fake or the actual cloth that was wrapped around the body of Jesus after he died? Or something else completely? The controversy has raged for years and there is no consensus opinion. Fervent believers on all sides stick to their opinions like glue. This article is not seeking to resolve any issues as controversy has greeted every piece of scientific analysis. But many have considered whether there might be DNA evidence on the cloth that might suggest where the person originated from as well as other personal details. There are also some rather fanciful claims that if DNA exists on the cloth, Christ could be cloned.
Blood on the Turin Shroud
It is worth pointing out that whenever scientists have had the opportunity to study the shroud, and when they will do again in the future, the starting point or working hypothesis for most, if not all, is to find out what the shroud is and when and where it was made and used.
Examinations of the shroud have revealed there to be blood stains. Iron oxide was found on the cloth. Some believed it was from the pigment used in red paint; others that it was from blood. Many different types of chemical analysis were conducted by Dr. John Heller of the New England Institute and Dr. Adam Adler of Western Connecticut State University. They found the iron oxide to be of a pure form that one would expect to see in blood rather than a form contaminated by various minerals and metals that you would expect to see in paint pigment. Their analysis didn't stop there though. Further studies have identified hemoglobin, protein and albumin.
Contested DNA Results from the Shroud of Turin
There have been claims by one research team that Turin Shroud DNA has been analysed and found to be that of a male, as X and Y chromosomes were detected. This research as with everything else about the shroud is highly contested.
The trouble with Turin Shroud DNA however is that if it is there it will be so old and degraded that it probably won't provide anything meaningful. There may not even be enough to amplify it to make coherent genomic sequences. Also, over the centuries so many people have come into contact with the shroud that their DNA has undoubtedly contaminated the cloth. If DNA analysis were to be undertaken, (that's if the church authorities give permission) how can anyone be sure that it belongs to the person who died and was wrapped in the shroud?
Of course these problems have not stopped speculation about Turin Shroud DNA. For example, if the DNA is of Jesus and He is the son of God, does that mean that God's DNA is on the cloth? Or as Jesus only had one earthly parent would the genome be haploid?
If the mystery is ever solved, it probably won't change an individual's faith, no matter what the result. It would just be nice to know who's shroud it is. Maybe we'll never be certain and future generations will still be puzzling over it in the centuries to come.