Friday, March 7, 2014

Were the radiocarbon dating laboratories duped by a computer hacker?: Summary

Further to my three-part series, "Were the radiocarbon dating laboratories duped by a computer hacker?" (part 1, part 2 and part 3), I have decided to post a one-page summary of my argument. I have inserted "dating" between "radiocarbon" and "laboratories" in those posts to make the wording more accurate and also to help my three posts, and this post, to be found by a search for "radiocarbon dating." Continued in "My replies to Dr. Timothy Jull and Prof. Christopher Ramsey."

The evidence is overwhelming that the Shroud of Turin is the burial sheet of Jesus Christ. Yet in 1988 the Shroud was C-14 dated as

[Right: Prof. E. Hall, Dr M. Tite and Dr. R. Hedges announcing in October 1988 that the Shroud had been C-14 dated to "1260-1390!": Wilson: 1998:pl.3b]

"medieval ... AD 1260- 1390" (Nature:1989: 337:611) by three C-14 dating labs at universities in Arizona, Zurich and Oxford. The midpoint of 1260-1390 is 1325 ± 65 years, which `just happens' to be a mere 25-30 years before the Shroud "was first displayed at Lirey in France in the 1350s" (ibid).

• The labs all used the same Accelerated Mass Spectrometry (AMS) method of C-14 dating. The results of the C-14 dating of the Shroud was displayed on each lab's AMS system computer, as described in this

[Left: Arizona C-14 lab staff in front of the AMS computer after it displayed the C-14 date of the Shroud which was then calibrated to "1350 AD": Gove:1996: 176H]

eyewitness account by Prof. Harry Gove, the co-inventor of the AMS C-14 dating method, of the very first C-14 dating of the Shroud:

"At 9:50 am 6 May 1988, Arizona time, the first of the ten measurements appeared on the screen. We all waited breathlessly. The ratio was compared with the OX sample and the radiocarbon time scale calibration was applied by Doug Donahue. ... At the end of that one minute we knew the age of the Turin Shroud! The next nine numbers confirmed the first. ... Based on these 10 one minute runs, with the calibration correction applied, the year the flax had been harvested that formed its linen threads was 1350 AD-the shroud was only 640 years old! It was certainly not Christ's burial cloth but dated from the time its historic record began ... " (Gove:1996:262-263).
• Note that after only one lab's test, Prof. Gove and all those present, even those who previously believed the Shroud was authentic, accepted as fact what the computer told them, that the Shroud's "flax had been harvested ... [in] 1350 AD." Which would mean that: a) the Shroud's linen would have had to be woven and its image imprinted on the newly

[Right: Pilgrim's badge from the Shroud's historical debut at Lirey, France in c.1355]

woven Shroud less than 10 years before the Shroud was first "displayed at Lirey in France in the 1350s"; and b) the Arizona lab's pre-treatment of the Shroud sample would have had to be perfect, removing all traces of non-original carbon.

• Yet in 1987, when Gove learned that the number of labs had been reduced from 7 to 3, he was so worried that at least one of those 3 labs would return an outlier date that he drafted a letter to the Pope, requesting him "not to date the Shroud at all" (Gove:1996:218-219). And in 1989, a year after the dating of the Shroud, an intercomparison test of 38 C-14 dating laboratories (with Oxford abstaining), found that only 7 of the 38 laboratories achieved a satisfactory result with the AMS laboratories being the worst (Wilson:1998:193). Even Prof. Christopher Ramsey, the current Director of the Oxford C-14 lab and a co-signatory of the 1988 Nature paper, has admitted: "There is a lot of other evidence that suggests ... the Shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow" (Ramsey:2008).

[Left: "Pray Codex," Wikipedia]

For example, the Pray Codex , dated 1192-95, depicts eight features which are unique to the Shroud, including a set of L-shaped burn holes, showing that the artist saw the Shroud (de Wesselow:2012:181). Yet the oldest date for the Pray Codex is 1195, which is 65 years before the earliest 1260 C-14 date. And the Shroud would have had to have existed long before the Pray Codex artist depicted it.

• But as Prof. Gove pointed out, the chance that the Shroud was 1st century, yet had a 14th century C-14 date, is "about one in a thousand trillion" (Gove:1996:303). Agnostic but pro-authenticist art historian Thomas de Wesselow therefore regards fraud in the C-14 dating of the Shroud as a real possibility because, "it is a remarkable coincidence that the result tallies so well with ... the Shroud's historical debut" and "Had anyone wished to discredit the Shroud, '1325 ± 65 years' is precisely the sort of date they would have looked to achieve." (de Wesselow:2012:170). However, Ian Wilson, who knew the leaders of the 1988 C-14 test, dismisses "as absurd and far-fetched as it is unworthy" that they "may have `rigged' the radiocarbon dating" (Wilson:1998:11). But there is another type of fraud which seems not to have occurred to anyone: that the radiocarbon dating laboratories were duped by a computer hacker.

• As astronomer-turned Berkeley University computer systems administrator Clifford Stoll, revealed in his 1989 book, "The Cuckoo's Egg" [right], in the 1980s university computers were all interconnected by Arpanet, the precursor to the Internet, and were poorly secured (Stoll:1989:8). A hacker could in the 1980s break into any university computer "without leaving any trace" (Stoll:1989:9) and in fact at least one did.

• The hacker who Stoll caught, Markus Hess, was a KGB agent in Germany who hacked into university computers in the USA, and from them he gained unauthorised access to 400 military computers. The KGB then had a section called "Seat 12" which conducted "a disinformation campaign of communist propaganda during the Cold War to discredit the moral authority of the Vatican." Clearly a 1st or early century C-14 date of the Shroud would increase enormously the moral authority of the Vatican and Christianity in general. So it is not an unreasonable proposition that a KGB agent hacked into the AMS system control console computer

[Left: Schematic of Arizona's current AMS system, with its computer at bottom left (evidently a DEC PDP-11/70)]

at each of the three C-14 labs and inserted a program which, when each test was run, replaced the Shroud's 1st or early century C-14 date, with dates which when calibrated, would yield years clustering around AD 1325, just before the Shroud's appearance in undisputed history in the 1350s. And it did not have to be the KGB. It could have been anyone with the requisite computer skills, even a university student hacker testing his ability, as Cornell University student Robert Morris, author of the Morris Worm, did in 1988.

• I am hopeful that now it is out in the public domain, my proposal that the C-14 laboratories which dated the Shroud were duped by a computer hacker will elicit confirmation, whether from an ex-KGB defector, a former university student, etc. However, in the final analysis it is not the Shroud pro-authenticists' problem to work out what went wrong with the 1988 C-14 dating of the Shroud. As de Wesselow points out, we can:

"... legitimately reject the carbon-dating result without determining exactly what went wrong ... Archaeologists routinely dismiss 'rogue' radiocarbon dates out of hand ... The 1988 test may therefore be declared null and void, even though, without further direct study of the Shroud, it is unlikely we will ever be able to say definitively what went wrong." (de Wesselow:2012:170-171).

PS: See further on "My replies to Dr. Timothy Jull and Prof. Christopher Ramsey." Following Dr. Jull and Prof. Ramsey's clarification that the AMS system computer was never online at the their two laboratories (and therefore presumably also not at Zurich), the hacker, or hackers, would have had to insert a program, or modify the existing program, manually and locally in each of the three laboratories.

That makes it more likely that the KGB was involved, either directly or more likely indirectly, through local hacker recruits, like the Chaos Computer Club, of which Markus Hess was a member. However, I do not claim that the hackers were members, of the Chaos Computer Club. I will develop this further in my next post in this series: "Were the radiocarbon dating laboratories duped by a computer hacker?: Revised."

Posted 18 February 2014. Updated 16 May 2023.

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