Does Bloodstain Pattern Analysis Prove the Shroud is Fake?

The Shroud of Turin may or may not be the authentic burial cloth of Jesus Christ, but the Latest Scientific Research (TM) doesn’t move the needle on that argument one direction or the other no matter how many “Shroud Proved Fake!” headlines you see.

The new research was presented in 2014 at a conference in Orlando, when certain limitations and flaws in the methodology were observed. After further tests and peer review, the results were published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences in July of this year. The paper is called “A BPA [bloodstain pattern analysis] Approach to the Shroud of Turin,” and it’s by Matteo Borrini, professor of forensic anthropology at John Moores University in Liverpool (UK), and Luigi Garlaschelli, a chemist from the University of Pavia. Borrini claims to be a Catholic, and Garlaschelli is an atheist and skeptic with a Flying Spaghetti Monster logo prominent on his blog, so make of that what you will.

The tests were designed to see if bloodstain patterns on the shroud matched the way blood would flow from nail wounds and a spear to wound to side. The test are absurd and inconclusive, attempting to use an analysis of the shape of bloodstains to determine the posture of the body depicted on the shroud. They did this by taping a thin cannula to the back of a test subject’s hand and attaching the other end to a bag of blood.

The full study is paywalled, but a press release from UAAR (Union Atheists Agnostics and Rationalists) to coincide with the original paper explains what happened next:

In previous studies, the forearm was kept at different inclinations with the aid of a goniometer ballistic – 0 °, the horizontal arm, 90 °, vertical arm – and a modest amount of blood had been made on the back of the hand casting and along the forearm.

All tests had shown that in order that the stream of blood flowing on the outside of the forearm, as visible on the shroud, the angle of the arm itself must be greater than 80 ° and less than 90 °, and then placing it in a position almost, but not totally vertical.

The new tests now conducted have considered other aspects:

The arms were always placed vertically, even with hands over his head, to play the position assumed if the condemned had been crucified in a single vertical pole.

To simulate the hypothesis that the bleeding had occurred (perhaps by a body washed) after death, blood was dripped from the back of the hand of a volunteer lying with his hands on the pubis in the same position of the Man of the Shroud ( both legs stretched that flexed). In none of these tests has achieved a performance of rivulets similar to that seen on the Shroud.

Scholars have finally run a BPA for the wound to the right side. A sponge (of the same size of the alleged injury readable on the shroud) soaked synthetic blood was pressed through a special grip on the torso of a mannequin standing. The trend trickles result in this case is vertical, consistent with that from image front of the Shroud of Turin. However doing the bleeding experimental with dummy lying (for groped to reproduce leaking from image ridge of the Shroud, which also derives from the wound to the chest for bleeding post-mortal), the result was quite different.

Taken together the results of these tests are therefore not consistent with the general trend of the rivulets of blood on the Shroud of Turin and seem to refuse to testify in favor of their authenticity, but rather in an artistic or didactic.

You can watch the fun here:

Where does one begin with this? If you look at the video, the blood is flowing like water, which suggests an anticoagulant was added. What would the blood flow have been like for a dehydrated man who was already bleeding and suffering multiple trauma?

The researchers claim only the direction and shape matter, not the viscosity of the blood, as though these things are unrelated and unaffected by myriad other factors. If the figure is Jesus, he would have been filthy, coated in dried blood from countless lacerations, caked in dirt, and probably spasming, all in the fierce mid-day sun and heat. The blood flow could have followed the path of another wound or dried dirt from the numerous falls described in the passion accounts. The test subjects in the video are in a nice air conditioned lab with clean skin, no wounds, and no trauma.

The truly comic portion of the video comes when they use a sponge and a mannequin to recreate the lance wound to side. At that point, any pretense of useful scientific methodology vanishes and we’re left watching something very silly dressed up as science.

Which bloodstains on the shroud depict a post-mortem flow and which suggest the flow of blood ante-mortem? There’s no way to account for that in the test, and their attempts to do so don’t help. The wound to the side could have bled one way on the cross and another when the figure was desposed, moved, or positioned on the shroud itself. Could rain have remoistened the blood and caused the patterns to change? There would have been blood flow when the nails were put in, but also possibly when the nails were removed, when the body was moved, and when it manipulated into position to be enclosed by the shroud. Was the body shrouded at the foot of the cross, or in the tomb, or in between?  How was it carried? By the arms, wrists, or under the armpits? By the feet or by the knees? Was it placed on a cart? On his side or on his back?

You see the problems. The shroud is an image of a moment, reflecting events taking place in multiple positions over hours. Without knowing countless pieces of information, conclusions based on bloodstain pattern analysis are almost impossible, and even if it is possible, it’s not proven by these experiments. There are so many potential variables to the position of Jesus on the cross, the type of cross, the three hours spent on the cross moving and spasming, the position of the body as it was taken down and then carried, the state of the body itself, the multiple traumas inflicted over the course of many hours, the environment (sun, heat, rain, dampness, etc), and beyond that making decisive claims based upon the results of a few BPA tests conducted under laboratory conditions discredits the researchers more than it discredits the shroud.

I’m not alone in my skepticism. From Catholic News Agency:

“Neither of the investigators have the scientific qualifications to speak on it,” since as an anthropologist and a physician, the pair does not “have experience in human bloodstains,” explained Alfonso Sánchez Hermosilla, a doctor and forensic anthropologist of the research team of the Spanish Sindonology Center.

“In their study they say that the bloodstains they observed don’t match up to those they obtained in their experiment, but they don’t have the necessary knowledge and so they did not adequately design the experiment, and that is why their conclusions lack any scientific value,” he told ACI Prensa.

For Sánchez Hermosilla, since it doesn’t have “any value scientifically, (the study) should not have been published in a serious journal.”

Physicist Paolo Di Lazzaro, deputy director of the International Centre of Sindonology,  told La Stampa:

We are in the field of pure hypothesis. Every new experiment is welcome, but before drawing any conclusions, a serious scientist must take into account the experimental limits, the unknown parameters and above all the different configuration of skin and blood between the drippings of the dehydrated and wounded and beaten man that we see on the Shroud and the drippings of fluidized blood on the skin of a person in good health. We cannot say that the Shroud‘s blood flows are not congruent with the position of a crucified man if we do not take into account the conditions of the dehydrated sindonic man, with the viscous blood and the swollen, dirty and sweaty skin. For this reason, I believe that the results of this research should be considered as less than preliminary, waiting for an experiment that attempts to reproduce the spots visible on the Shroud using parameters of blood and skin closer to those that they want to reproduce.

The Shroud may indeed be a fake. I’m inclined to think not, but I’m always open to new data. This, however, is just nonsense.