Saturday, August 2, 2008

Response #2 to Bill Meacham's criticism of my proposal to radiocarbon-date the Shroud's pollen

Continuing from my response #1 to Shroud of Turin pro- authenticity archaeologist Dr. William (Bill) Meacham, who privately criticised my

[Above: four of Max Frei's pollen tape microscope slides: Steven D. Schafersman]

paper, "A proposal to radiocarbon-date the pollen of the Shroud of Turin," published in the British Society for the Turin Shroud newsletter of December 2007. Dr Meacham has kindly approved me quoting his words, but I have edited out some non-essentials.

On Friday, 4 April 2008, Dr Meacham wrote:

Dear Stephen,


> I looked into this issue a while back and found that a single pollen grain CANNOT be dated; that it would take 100 or more to get a date even taking the smallest sample size that can be accurately dated (80 micrograms). Now there might be certain species of pollen that have heavier grains, but I doubt that would reduce the figure very much. I can send some references later.

My response to him of the same date was:

Thanks for your criticisms. However, you seem not to have read carefully my paper, "A proposal to radiocarbon-date the pollen of the Shroud of Turin," because the problems you raise are explicitly or implicitly covered in it. As I pointed out, your claim that "a single pollen grain CANNOT be dated" is contradicted by the references I sent you.

However, after sending that response, on April 10, I sent a query via the form at the bottom of the U.S. Geological Survey web page, 14C (radiocarbon) Dating, as follows:

Referring web page: Your web page "14C (radiocarbon) Dating" [] states that: "AMS dating of single pollen grains ... is now commonplace." Could you please confirm whether this is correct (or otherwise)? I have been told by an archaeologist that it requires a minimum of 100 grains of pollen to extract enough carbon to obtain a radiocarbon date. If you confirm it is correct that AMS dating of single pollen grains is commonplace, I would also appreciate references to scientific article(s) where AMS dating of single pollen grains was successfully accomplished. Thank you.

I received a reply on April 15, from a Richard Pelltier, U.S. Geological Survey, that "AMS dating of single pollen grains is not commonplace" (my emphasis):

Hello, I spoke with the person in charge of the Bear Lake project at USGS, and he confirmed that you are indeed correct. AMS dating of single pollen grains is not commonplace. The information on the web site has been updated to more accurately reflect the requirements for AMS dating. Thank you very much for your feedback. If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact me.

I checked the USGS 14C (radiocarbon) Dating web page and it had changed "single pollen grains" to "small amounts" (my emphasis):

Technological advances have made analyses of very small samples possible, using accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). AMS dating of small amounts of pollen, ostracode shells, and single plant seeds is now commonplace.

I communicated this to Dr Meacham the same day, 15 April:

Bill, Here is the reply I received from the USGS confirming its "AMS dating of single pollen grains ... is now commonplace" was wrong. It has now changed it to "AMS dating of small amounts of pollen, ostracode shells, and single plant seeds is now commonplace." I will include this in my response to your criticisms on my blog.

I relied on this original US Geological Survey statement that "AMS dating of single pollen grains, ostrocode shells and plant seeds is now commonplace" (USGS, 2 May 2001) as being correct, and it is astonishing that it was not only wrong but remained uncorrected for nearly 7 years!

This might seem to be the end of my proposal to radiocarbon-date the pollen of the Shroud of Turin, but it is not. Clearly if single pollen grains cannot be radiocarbon-dated, this makes it most unlikely that the limited amount of pollen in the Max Frei collection can be dated. So it seems that if the Shroud's pollen is ever to be radiocarbon-dated, it will have to be the abundant pollen on the Shroud itself (Marino, 1999; Maloney, 1990, pp.4-5; Maloney, 2000, p.250 & Wilson & Schwortz, 2000, p.82).

>Also, there is HUGE doubt about Frei's identifications, as contrary to the impression he gave in his published writings, he did not do any SEM on the Shroud pollen. In particular his id of Gundelia appears to be wrong in one instance, and far from confirmed in others.
>Further, all of Frei's pollen is embedded in scotch tape, making contamination likely and removal difficult-to-impossible.

My response was:

And as my paper also said, Frei's identifications at the genus level have been confirmed, and that would be sufficient to test Ian Wilson's theory. But even if all you claim is true, as my paper also said, there is abundant pollen on the Shroud itself. Where it was originally located on it is not an issue. A dating of a 100 confirmed Gundelia tournefortii pollen grains from the Shroud would therefore be feasible.

>And the coup de grace is that dating the pollen would not really get us anywhere, since it can shift around with and be transferred from other objects. If the Shroud was kept in a room where several first century AD relics were also stored, after being looted from Palestine, say, the Shroud could have 2000-year-old Palestinian pollen on it without ever having left France.

See my response above that "Where it was originally located on it is not an issue." That is, it does not matter if the pollen on the Shroud has been shifted around, since it is not actually part of the Shroud and presumably was deposited randomly in the first place.

I here add that, as for "the Shroud could have 2000-year-old Palestinian pollen on it without ever having left France," the first step is to find out if the Shroud does have "2000-year-old Palestinian pollen on it" and then if it does, those who wish to explain that as due to it being "in a room where several first century AD relics were also stored, after being looted from Palestine" can do so.

>So it appears to me an impossible endeavor. Whereas, dating a few tiny fragments of the Shroud from different areas on the cloth is so simple and straight-forward, it is just crazy that it hasn't been done for the last 20 years!

My response was:

And as my paper also said, testing both the linen and the pollen are complementary, not mutually exclusive.

I add here that while carbon-dating the pollen in the Frei collection now looks to be "an impossible endeavor," radiocarbon-dating the pollen on the Shroud itself is just as possible as it ever was. The only difference is that unlike the Frei collection pollen, testing the pollen on the Shroud would require the permission of the Shroud's owner, the Pope, through the Shroud's custodian, the Archbishop of Turin (Cassanelli, 2002, p.14; Tribbe, 2006, p.5). While this may be more difficult, it is not "impossible". Indeed, as I wrote in a future response in this series:

I consider it to be inevitable that the pollen of the Shroud will be carbon-dated, because it is the only ultimate check on the accuracy of the carbon-dating of the Shroud's linen.


To be continued in Response #3 of this series.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc. (Biology).
My other blogs: CreationEvolutionDesign & Jesus is Jehovah!

"In 1453 Marguerite de Charny, the last descendant of the family, gave custody of the Shroud to Anna di Lusignano, the wife of Duke Lodovico of Savoy, who transferred it to Chambery, then Capital of Savoy. Here, in the `Sainte Chapelle' during the night of 4 December 1532, the Shroud suffered very severe damage as a result of a fierce fire; the damage caused, even though lovingly repaired by the Poor Clares, is still evident. In 1578, in order to ease the exhausting pilgrimage for St Charles Borromeo, who was travelling on foot and fasting to Chambery, Duke Emanuel Philibert moved the Shroud to Turin, his new capital. Since 1694, the Shroud has been preserved in the Chapel of the same name built between the Cathedral and the Royal Palace, to a design by the Theatine father and architect, Guarino Guarini. Venerated beneath the famous dome, it is contained in an ornate urn, the three keys to which are separately in the possession of the Custodian, the Archbishop, and the Proprietor. The latter, by virtue of the will of Umberto (Humbert) of Savoy, the last king of Italy, is now, since 1983, the Holy Father himself. The Shroud, stretched and stitched on to a backing of Holland canvas, has been preserved rolled up for its entire length around a wooden cylinder.Only on occasions associated with the Church or the history of the House of Savoy was the Shroud exposed for the viewing of the faithful. The relic has thus never left Turin, a city with which it has such deep associations, except that in 1706, during the siege by the French, it was taken for safe-keeping to Genoa, while in the terrible years of the Second World War, after a stay in the Quirinale, it was hidden in the Benedictine Monastery of Montevergine (Avellino)." (Cassanelli, A., 2002, "The Holy Shroud," Williams, B., transl., Gracewing: Leominster UK, p.14).

"Frei told Dr. Walter McCrone, a noted Shroud critic, that there were 1 to 2 pollen per square centimeter on the tapes, which indicates that there are between 47,000 and 94,000 pollen grains on the Shroud. McCrone, who examined the tapes on July 23, 1988, agreed with this figure (ASSIST Newsletter, June 1990, pg. 7, footnote 11). Frei's pollen findings were studied by Dr. Aharon Horowitz, Israel's leading palynologist, and Dr. Avinoam Danin, professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (the world's expert on botany in Israel) who both agreed with Frei's assertion that the pollen came from Israel (ASSIST Newsletter, June 1990, pg. 3)" (Marino, J., 1999, "The Shroud Report: The Debate Rages On." Response to Joe Nickell, "Blooming 'Shroud' Claims," Skeptical Inquirer, November. Academy of Religion and Psychical Research Bulletin, March 2000. Shroud of Turin Education Project).

"So far as Dr. Frei's surveys of the tapes are concerned, the evidence indicates that he made a kind of random analysis of the contents of each tape, circling items of interest which came to light at low power (probably 10x). Those experienced in microscopy know that the higher power the more time consuming it is to do survey work. Dr. Frei once told Dr. Walter McCrone that he (Frei) was finding approximately 1 to 2 pollen per square centimeter on the tapes. Projecting this figure onto the Shroud it would imply that there are between 47,000 and 94,000 pollen grains on the cloth. I have used a. different approach. Beginning at the upper right hand corner of the tape I surveyed down, moved over one tenth of a millimeter and continued upward. Following that pattern I have nearly completed my survey of pollen on at least 3 of the 27 sticky tapes. But quick preliminary analysis of the remainder of the tapes have proven that on every single tape taken directly from the Shroud, there are apparently many times the figure given by Frei. For example, on the tape which Frei took from the blood flow from the heel I have made a quick count of at least seven pollen. And seven were found in a quick count of the tape from the blood flow across the back. But such quick counts do not really tell the story. My nearly complete photo-inventory of a tape from the dorsal `side-strip' shows a count of more than 80, and the one from the blood flow down the anatomical left arm holds more than 160, while the one from beside the face of the man of the Shroud exhibits more than 275 pollen, all of these concentrated in the approximate two square centimeters of the lead end of the tape! 12 These findings imply that there are incredible amounts of pollen on the Shroud. One need only find 21.1 pollen per square centimeter to project a million on the cloth. (Maloney, P.C., 1990, "The Current Status of Pollen Research and Prospects for the Future," ASSIST Newsletter, Vol. 2., No. 1, June, pp.1-7, pp.4-5. Emphasis original).

"Dr. Frei was not interested in the statistics of pollen grains on the Shroud. His goal was to identify individual plant types he found in the representing pollen on the Shroud cloth. Thus, Frei apparently used the `random walk' approach to his examination of his tapes. He told Dr. McCrone that he had been finding, on average, one to two pollen per square centimeter. At the 1988 exam of the 1978 tapes, Dr. McCrone told our group that he confirmed Frei's observation. McCrone's approach at that exam was also the use of the `random walk' - zig-zagging around the slide to locate and view each item of interest. There is another method one can use to determine the actual number of pollen grains that may be on the Shroud. When one examines the 1978 tapes using an `actual count' approach (and photographing each to create a photo-inventory) as I did, one gains not only an idea of the extant grains on the tape, but one can also extrapolate to develop some idea of the statistical presence of pollen on the Shroud in general and, indeed, the distribution and statistical presence of pollen types on the Shroud. In my 1989 paper (Maloney, 1990) I noted that the count I did on tapes 10/9 Aa from the side-strip produced a result of 88 in two square centimeters of space-i.e. 44 per square centimeter; the count on 4 B/d from the left anatomical arm showed 163 pollen grains in two centimeters-i.e. approximately 81 pollen per square centimeter, the count on 6 B/d taken from relatively close to the face stood at more than 275 grains in two centimeters space-i.e. approximately 137 grains per square centimeter." (Maloney, P.C., 2000, "A Contribution toward a History of Botanical Research on the Shroud of Turin," in Walsh, B., ed., Proceedings of the 1999 Shroud of Turin International Research Conference, Richmond, Virginia, pp.241-266, p.250. Emphasis original).

"In 1453 the Shroud was purchased by the Duke of Savoy, and the Savoy family owned it thereafter until 1983. The Savoys ultimately ruled over all of Italy, which was unified in the nineteenth century. Umberto II was deposed as king of Italy in June 1946 and lived in exile in Portugal until his death in 1983. He was titular head of the House of Savoy during his lifetime and owner of the Shroud, and regularly consulted with the archbishop of Turin, who was the Shroud's custodian. By his will, Umberto gave the Shroud to the pope of the Roman Catholic Church and his successors; the bequest was accepted by Vatican announcement of October 18, 1983. On February 7, 1984, the Vatican secretary of state announced that under the terms of Umberto's will, the Shroud was to remain in Turin, and that the archbishop of Turin would be the pope's personal representative for all future Shroud matters." (Tribbe, F.C., 2006, "Portrait of Jesus: The Illustrated Story of the Shroud of Turin," [1983], Paragon House Publishers: St. Paul MN, Second edition, p.5).

"Radiocarbon dating is a relatively new science, in use only since the 1960's. As our knowledge 14C increases, we expect that both the accuracy and precision of radiocarbon dates will increase. Technological advances have made analyses of very small samples possible, using accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). AMS dating of single pollen grains, ostrocode shells and plant seeds is now commonplace." ("14C (radiocarbon) Dating)," U.S. Geological Survey, 2 May 2001).

"Unruffled, Frei kept up a friendly correspondence with me, making clear that his work with the tiny pollen grains demanded much time and patience, and that, when his researches were complete, he had every intention of publishing them in the form of a fully definitive scientific report. Sadly, however, he was never able to achieve this; in January 1983 he died of a sudden heart attack. Five and a half years later, almost unnoticed amid the attention given to the carbon dating, his entire collection of Shroud sticky tapes, along with his unpublished manuscript, passed to the United States, ceded by his widow, Gertrud, who hoped that her husband's work might thereby be carried on. On 23 July 1988 examples from this tape collection were formally viewed on video-linked microscopes at a meeting at the Academy of Natural Science, Philadelphia. At this meeting Dr Walter McCrone, who was specially invited to attend, acknowledged that quantities of pollen grains, whatever their age and geographical derivation, were undeniably present on these tapes. The Shroud researcher Paul Maloney, then acting as the collection's custodian, later reported on the preliminary statistical analysis that he had personally conducted: `Eighty-eight pollen grains were counted in approximately 2 square centimetres on a dorsal `sidestrip' tape ... A hundred and sixty-three grains were counted on the same size area on a tape from the left arm, but an astounding circa 300 grains were counted on a tape taken from near the face in a comparative size area. [Maloney, P., "The Current Status of Pollen research and Prospects for the Future," at "Symposium Scientifique International sur le Linceul de Turin," Paris, 7-8 September 1989]" (Wilson, I. & Schwortz, B., 2000, "The Turin Shroud: The Illustrated Evidence," Michael O'Mara Books: London, p.82).

Updated: 11 July 2015.