Monday, June 19, 2017

6 May 1987: On this day 30 years ago in the radiocarbon dating of the Turin Shroud

© Stephen E. Jones[1]

This is "6 May 1987," being part #3, of my series, "On this day 30 years ago in the radiocarbon dating of the Turin Shroud." For more information about this series, see part #1, Index. As explained in part #1, the first few significant days 30 years ago have already passed but I will catch up and thereafter publish each day's post as near to its 30th anniversary as possible. Emphases are mine unless otherwise indicated.

[Index #1] [Previous: 27Apr87] [Next: 15Jun87 #4]

6 May 1987 As we saw in the previous post (27Apr87), Prof. Harry Gove (1922-2009) [Below [2].], Director of Rochester New York's radiocarbon dating laboratory, a co-inventor of AMS radiocarbon dating, and the unofficial leader of the Shroud radiocarbon dating laboratories, had read in the 27 April 1987 issue of the Italian newspaper La Stampa, that Prof. Luigi Gonella (1930–2007), the scientific adviser to the Archbishop of Turin, had said that the Shroud's radiocarbon dating "would be made in two or three laboratories by two research methods"[3]. Gove found it "troublesome ... that the number of laboratories would be reduced from the original seven to two or three and ... the carbon-14 tests would be just one of a whole vast panoply of tests presumably carried out by STURP"[4]. These changes caused Gove "great concern" and he "decided that we would have to try to do something about this as quickly as possible"[5].

On 6 May 1987, Gove sent a telegram with a letter to follow "to the senior representatives of the six other radiocarbon laboratories and to the British Museum":

"I composed a telegram to be sent to the senior representatives of the six other radiocarbon laboratories and to the British Museum which went as follows: `I propose to hand-deliver the following letter to Professor Chagas [Carlos Chagas Filho (1910–2000)], President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences] when he is in New York on May 16 or 17, so I would appreciate a quick response. In my view, Gonella and STURP are being deliberately mischievous concerning carbon dating. If the Turin workshop agreement is not followed to the letter, I am no longer willing to be involved. Please approve this letter' ... The telegram was sent on 6 May 1987"[6].
The text of the letter was as follows:
"Dear Professor Chagas: A meeting was held at the Pillar and Post Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada the site of the 4th International Symposium on Accelerator Mass Spectrometry on Thursday, 30 April 1987 concerning radiocarbon dating of the Turin Shroud. Present were representatives of the 5 AMS laboratories who will be involved in the measurements, all of whom with the exception of the representative of Oxford were present at the Turin workshop. Since this international meeting concerned accelerator mass spectrometry, AMS, there were no delegates present from the 2 counter laboratories at Harwell and Brookhaven. As a result of the meeting, the undersigned wished to reaffirm their strong, continuing support for the conclusions and procedural steps agreed to by the delegates to the Turin workshop of September 29 to 1 October and in particular: (a) all seven laboratories must be involved in the tests; (b) Madame Flury-Lemberg of the Abegg-Stiftung must be responsible for the selection and actual removal of the material from the shroud; (c) representatives of all seven laboratories should be present at the actual sample removal; (d) a representative of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the British Museum and the Archbishopric of Turin will supervise the shroud samples from the time of removal to the time of their delivery, also with a dummy sample and control samples to a representative of each of the seven laboratories. We emphasize the above because of a report in the 27 April 1987 issue of La Stampa, the Turin newspaper, attributed to Professor Luigi Gonella, that the carbon-14 measurements will be carried out in two or three laboratories. That so directly contravenes the Turin workshop agreement that it could severely jeopardize the carbon dating enterprise. The people present at the Niagara-on-the-Lake meeting were S L Brignall, Rochester, C R Bronk, Oxford, P E Damon, Arizona, D J Donahue, Arizona, J C Duplessy, Gif-sur-Yvette, H E Gove, Rochester and W Woelfli, ETH Zurich"[7].
Behind Gove's "If the Turin workshop agreement is not followed to the letter, I am no longer willing to be involved" and his demand that "all seven laboratories must be involved in the tests" was his realisation that if the laboratories were to be reduced from seven to two or three, because of his clashes with Gonella, his laboratory Rochester had no chance of being selected:
"Some laboratories had, therefore, been eliminated. But which ones? In Rochester there was Gove: his clash with Gonella did not leave him with any chance. Harbottle had upset Ballestrero's consultant by alluding, in his talk, to the basic agreement of the preparatory work of 1986 at the meeting of the American Chemical Society. Zurich was in a critical situation because of its error of 1000 years in the preliminary test. Harwell had received negative publicity over the conflicting dates in the case of the Lindow Man. It was evident that there were conflicts of interests. Amongst other considerations Hall was a member of the council of administration of the British Museum"[8].
Gove received permission from the heads of only five of the seven laboratories (the two dissenters were the non-AMS laboratories at Harwell and Brookhaven) to send his letter to Chagas, and of the heads of the five AMS laboratories which did permit Gove to use their names, two (Hall of Oxford and Wolfli of Zurich), later changed their minds:
"On 7 May Jean-Claude Duplessy phoned me from Gif-sur-Yvette. He entirely agreed with the contents of the proposed letter to Chagas, he was concerned about complications that may be caused by STURP and repeated that he had serious reservations about them. Later that same day, Hall phoned from Oxford. He said that he was worried that the letter might complicate matters. He thought Chagas favoured only two or three laboratories being involved. I said it was my impression that Turin was by-passing Chagas and that this letter might strengthen his hand. Chagas had never expressed a preference for any less than the agreed upon number of seven laboratories. Hall thought that if a decision were made to reduce the number it would mean starting again. He agreed to sign the letter. It seemed to me Hall clearly opposed the idea of a reduction in the number of laboratories. He later changed his mind. About an hour later, Donahue phoned from Arizona. He said he was in complete agreement with the letter and so was Damon. The next day, 8 May, I got a bitnet message from Woelfli in Zurich in which he stated that he fully agreed with all the points made in my letter to Professor Chagas and that he would be glad to sign it. He stated categorically that he was not willing to be involved if the Turin workshop agreement were not followed to the letter. He also changed his mind later on. On 11 May I sent the letter to Professor Chagas. It was signed by the heads of the five AMS laboratories who had given me permission to submit it"[9].

Continued in the next part #4 of this series.

1. This post is copyright. I grant permission to quote from any part of this post (but not the whole post), provided it includes a reference citing my name, its subject heading, its date, and a hyperlink back to this page. [return].
2. "Dr. Harry Gove Co-developer, Accelerator Mass Spectrometry," El carbono 14, por Manuel Carreira, Sabana Santa, 2013. [return]
3. Gove, H.E., 1996, "Relic, Icon or Hoax?: Carbon Dating the Turin Shroud," Institute of Physics Publishing: Bristol UK, pp.186-187. [return]
4. Gove, 1996, p.187. [return]
5. Ibid. [return]
6. Gove, 1996, pp.187, 188. [return]
7. Gove, 1996, pp.187-188. [return]
8. Petrosillo, O. & Marinelli, E., 1996, "The Enigma of the Shroud: A Challenge to Science," Scerri, L.J., transl., Publishers Enterprises Group: Malta, pp.37-38. [return]
9. Gove, 1996, pp.188-189. [return]

Posted: 19 June 2017. Updated: 2 January 2021.

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