Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP)
Jan S. Jaworski
University of Warsaw, Poland
The Shroud of Turin Research Project is the name given to the comprehensive, primarily physico-chemical, study of the Shroud of Turin carried out by dozens of American scientists who obtained permission from the Shroud’s owner (former King Humberto II of Italy) and church authorities to directly access it for 96 hours after its public display in October 1978. In Turin, the project participants carried out non-invasive, mainly spectroscopic and microscopic measurements, took a number of scientific photographs and samples of microscopic particles from the surface of the cloth for further analysis by pressing specially prepared adhesive tapes that leave no sticking traces onto it. STURP is recognised to this day as the most complete experimental scientific study of the Shroud using the vast arsenal of research techniques available in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
STURP’s president and chief organiser was physicist John P. Jackson, and its vice-president was Eric J. Jumper, both associate professors at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado. Prior to their departure for Turin, for almost two years STURP scientists discussed—by correspondence and in seminar meetings—a detailed research schedule, which was to be carried out 24 hours a day by teams changing in sequence. A coordinate system for the entire cloth was adopted and the exact locations on the Shroud of the characteristic sites for photographing and recording spectra, as well as for taking samples, were determined. 25 of these were on the front side of the image and 15 on the rear side. The sites chosen included areas of the body image, blood marks, weaker and stronger burns, water stains and a control area of the cloth. One month prior to the trip, a practical training session with the measuring apparatus was organised in Amston (east of New York). Twenty-six American scientists and technicians flew to Turin (some accompanied by their wives, who were to help assemble the apparatus, and their children). Earlier, the measuring apparatus, weighing over a tonne, was shipped in 80 crates. The shroud was made available for examination on 8 October 1978 in the huge hall of the Royal Palace, adjacent to Turin Cathedral of St John the Baptist. The windows of the room were darkened and the Shroud itself was stretched out on a rotating table specially imported from the USA, made of stainless steel and held in place with magnetised buttons. First, a study by European scientists, accompanied by Americans, was planned, giving the latter an opportunity to access the Shroud for a total time of 120 hours.
As part of the direct study of the Shroud, STURP members used: black and white and colour scientific photography with sensitometric calibration for subsequent quantitative measurements with a microdensitometer, mosaic photography with colour separation and in ‘octo’ format with high resolution, macroscopic magnifications and stereophotography (Donald Devan, Ernest H. Brooks II, Vernon D. Miller)1, microscopic photography with magnification of up to 30 times (Mark Evans), X-ray radiography (Robert W. Mottern, J. Ronald London, Roger A. Morris), X-ray fluorescence (R. A. Morris, J.R. London, R.W. Mottern), ultraviolet and visible light reflectance spectra recorded for wavelengths from 250 to 750 nm and UV fluorescence with excitation at 365 nm and 248 nm (Roger Gilbert, Jr. and Marion M. Gilbert and Samuel F. Pellicori and V.D. Miller), infrared spectroscopy (Joseph S. Accetta, J. Steven Baumgart), infrared thermography (Thomas W. Haverty), documentary photography (Barrie M. Schwortz) and image analysis, also visually at various magnifications (Donald Janney, Jean Lorre, Donald J. Lynn and R.W. Mottern). Samples from the surface of the linen were taken using adhesive tapes (Raymond R. Rogers and Robert Dinegar). The team studying the Shroud of Turin also included technicians assisting with the experiments, overseeing and maintaining the apparatus (Rudolph J. Dichtl, John D. German and Joan Janney Rogers) and Thomas F. D’Muhala, handling the logistics of the whole exercise, and Kenneth E. Stevenson, acting as spokesman. Technicians had to watch over the electrical power supply to the instruments at all times. In addition, it was necessary to set up a darkroom in the bathroom for developing films (mainly X-ray). Some of the results had to be recorded manually, as the instruments were not yet computerised and, to make matters worse, the computer, which was brought in parts, could not be started up on site. Some of the measurements, such as the X-rays, had to be taken over a very long period of time (it took 20 minutes to expose one picture), as low-energy radiation was used in order to expose the Shroud as little as possible. Instruments were placed on special tripods so that they could be moved at a constant distance from the cloth, keeping the geometry of the measuring system constant. Around a thousand photographic images were taken.
In addition, the STURP team in the United States included forensic specialists Robert Bucklin and Joseph Gambescia, biochemist Alan D. Adler and biophysicist John H. Heller, who were involved in identifying traces of →blood on the Shroud, X-ray fluorescence specialist, physicist Larry Schwalbe, museum conservationist Jim R. Drusik (the publication cited spells his name Druzik) and chemist and archaeologist Diane Soran. During the first phase of research, two of the additional researchers withdrew from the project. After their return from Turin, over the next few years the team members subjected the collected samples, photographs and measurement results to detailed analyses, published the results obtained by various techniques in specialised professional journals and discussed them among themselves in order to arrive at a comprehensive description of the physical and chemical structure of the Shroud and the traces that can be observed on it. They also agreed on hypotheses to explain the formation of the various types of marks on the cloth.
Between 1980 and 1984, researchers from the STURP team published 15 original scientific papers with the results of their detailed research and a summary of the entire project (six of which appeared in the American Optical Society journal Applied Optics), while six papers appeared in the 1982 IEEE conference proceedings, all of which are available on the website maintained by Barrie M. Schwortz.
Among the most important results of the STURP team’s research are the establishment of the following facts: (1) the image on the Shroud is that of a real human being, subjected to scourging and crucifixion, with accurately rendered anatomical details and is certainly not created by an artist; (2) the linen fibres from the Shroud lack any colouring compounds: dyes, paints, pigments (both inorganic and organic) or burns that could explain the creation of the image; (3) no biological or biochemical substances secreted by the body have been found on the linen to explain the creation of the image; (4) the image of the body has the character of a negative and has encoded unique three-dimensional information (cf. →Photographs of the Shroud); (5) the image was also created in places where there was no direct contact between the body and the linen; (6) the image of the body has a surface character and is formed by fibres lying only in the outer layer of the thread; (7) the intensity of the image of the body depends on the surface amount of fibres coloured yellow in the same way; (8) the image effectively suppresses the fluorescence of the linen itself; (9) the resolution of the image of the image is at least 0.5 cm; (10) the traces of blood were on the Shroud earlier than the image of the body and have different properties; (11) the image of the body was not created under the traces of blood; (12) the traces of blood show penetration into the threads and capillary flow; (13) the authenticity of the blood on the Shroud was confirmed (residues of haemoglobin and albumin were detected).
The final STURP report, announced at a press conference in October 1981, concluded that the image of the body was formed by a modification of the structure of the polysaccharides forming the microscopic flax fibres, which were oxidised and dehydrated with the formation of conjugated bond systems that absorb blue and violet light, thus forming an image of yellow colour: such transformations can be reproduced in the laboratory by certain physical and chemical processes (STURP Final Report 1981). No method could be identified that would reproduce all the properties of the image or suggest the conditions under which it could have been formed: the answer to the question of how the image was formed or what formed it still remains, as it has been until now, a mystery (STURP Final Report 1981).
In order to solve the riddle of the image on the Shroud, scientists from the STURP project considered as early as 1981 the need to undertake new multidisciplinary research, among them spectroscopic, especially infrared, measurements of isotopic composition and microbial contamination, as well as radiocarbon dating. They made contact with new specialists in various fields, including Harry E. Gove, one of the creators of the 14C carbon dating method. In 1984, the scientists prepared a new 177-page Official Proposal for the Scientific Study of the Shroud of Turin addressed to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who forwarded it to the Holy Father, the legal owner of the Shroud. In it, they planned in detail to use 26 different examination techniques. Meanwhile, the radiocarbon laboratories invited to collaborate eventually rejected STURP’s offer, pushing the Vatican to carry out only radiocarbon dating on their own and ignoring the expertise of the STURP team members and their proposals aimed at reducing the risk of the results being burdened by errors related to the numerous contaminations heterogeneously distributed on the linen (→Determination of the Age of the Shroud, →Physical Analyses of the Shroud). The argument that prevailed for the rejection of cooperation with the US scientists was H.E. Gove’s opinion that the STURP members were too inclined to accept the Shroud as authentic. The eventual authorisation by the authorities responsible for the Shroud to carry out only radiocarbon dating virtually excluded the possibility of further comprehensive research by the STURP team (cf. Jackson 2017). Its members, however (notably A.D. Adler, R.N. Rogers, J.P. Jackson, R.H. Dinegar, J. Drusik and J.J. Lorre) continued to study the Shroud for years to come, and some of them still co-author critical publications today (B.M. Schwortz, L.A. Schwalbe). During a private audience in 1997, J.P. Jackson presented the problem of the study of the Shroud to John Paul II, but that did not result in obtaining permission for new measurements. Finally, T.F. D’Muhala announced in 1998 the dissolution of the STURP project, which officially took place on 1 October 1998 (cf. Baima Bollone 2002).
The collections of samples and photographs, in accordance with the agreement with King Humbert II, became the property of the individual researchers. Much of it is now owned by the Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association, Inc. (STERA), including samples taken by R.N. Rogers, which are occasionally made available for further research.
1 The names of the coordinators and members of the research groups are given in brackets, although more people were engaged with each type of measurement, setting up and dismantling the devices. ↑
Baima Bollone P., Całun Turyński. 101 pytań i odpowiedzi, przeł. z ang. K. Stopa, Kraków 2002, pp. 272–275.
Jaworski J.S., Prawdziwe oblicze Boga Tajemnice Całunu Turyńskiego w świetle najnowszych badań naukowych, Warszawa 2020.
Jackson J. et al., The Shroud of Turin: A Critical Summary of Observations, Data, and Hypothesis, ed. R. Seifker, [s.l.] 2017.
Jumper E.J., et al., A Comprehensive Examination of the Various Stains and Images on the Shroud of Turin, “Archaeological Chemistry III” 1984, pp. 447–476, ACS Advances in Chemistry, Vol. 205, https://doi.org/10.1021/ba-1984-0205.ch022.
Schwalbe L.A., Rogers R.N., Physics and Chemistry of the Shroud of Turin: A Summary of the 1978 Investigation, “Analytica Chimica Acta” 1982, Vol. 135, No. 1, pp. 3–49, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0003-2670(01)85263-6.
Schwortz B., Oblicze prawdy. Żyd, który zbadał Całun Turyński, rozm. przepr. G. Górny, przeł. J. Savage-Hanford, M. Gąda, Izabelin–Warszawa 2013.
Sources of Images
1. and 2. Photos by B. Schwortz (sources: https://0201.nccdn.net/4_2/000/000/011/751/4-K-5-72dpi.jpg; https://0201.nccdn.net/1_2/000/000/10c/d10/4-K-9-72dpi.jpg)