University of Hong Kong archaeologist Dr. William (Bill) Meacham, author of "The Rape of the Turin Shroud" (2005), has in a series of back-and- forth emails privately criticised my paper,
"A proposal to radiocarbon- date the pollen of the Shroud of Turin," which was published in the December 2007, British Society for the Turin Shroud newsletter. Dr Meacham also criticised my original blog post of May 28, 2007 and my later post of January 22, 2008, also about my proposal to radiocarbon-date the Shroud's pollen.
I began preparing my further response to Dr Meacham's criticisms via this blog, by trying to deal with them under each topic, but I found it became too complex. So I have decided instead to post here my response to each email, in chronological order (after making minor corrections, and excluding personal matters, irrelevancies and protecting other parties' confidentiality, etc), and concluding each message with my further comments.
Dr Meacham has kindly allowed me to mention his name and quote his words (which will be bold to distinguish them from mine). At the end of this series, I will draw Dr Meacham's attention to these posts and give him the opportunity to reply here, after which I will conclude the series.
The first email I received was on March 26, 2008, from an associate of Dr Meacham's (cc. William Meacham), the relevant part of which was:
With regard to your article "A proposal to radiocarbon-date the pollen of the Shroud of Turin" I have received the following comment on the paper from Dr. Bill Meacham.
Dating the pollen makes no sense, and would require at least one hundred grains to get a date. The author made a major error in thinking that a single grain could be dated. And even if it could, it would not prove or disprove anything, as the pollen COULD have come from dusts in a storage room where booty from the crusades was kept.
My response to this associate (cc. Bill Meacham) of 26 March included (emphasis original):
Thanks for your comments. However, as my paper said, "The accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) method of radiocarbon-dating (the same method used in 1988 to date the Shroud's linen) can accurately date samples containing less than 500 micrograms (millionths of a gram) of carbon, allowing dating even of single pollen grains.13" The relevant items in reference 13 are, "Zhou, et al., 1997, p.19":"Pollen is an abundant plant fossil, well preserved in sediment, and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) technology allows the analysis of <500µg of carbon." (Zhou, W., Donahue, D. & Jull, A.J.T., "Radiocarbon AMS Dating of Pollen Concentrated from Eolian Sediments: Implications for Monsoon Climate Change Since the Late Quaternary," Radiocarbon, Vol. 39, No. 1, 1997, pp.19-26).
"U.S. Geological Survey, 2001, "14C (radiocarbon) Dating," 2 May. http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/info/lacs/radiocarbon.htm:"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, May 2, 2001).
My paper also said, "A potentially major new line of research ... has apparently only been briefly suggested in the scientific literature,5 is radiocarbon-dating the pollen of the Shroud of Turin." Reference 5 was to Currie, L.A., 2004, "The remarkable metrological history of radiocarbon dating [II]," Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, 109(2), March-April, pp.185-217, 204:"`Molecular dating of the pure cellulose fraction of the Shroud, or of the associated pollen, could furnish an interesting consistency test for the published radiocarbon date. It would be especially interesting to put a `time stamp' on pollen whose point of origin has already been ascribed to a location 10 km to 20 km east and west of Jerusalem . Such measurements are made feasible by the reduction of requisite sample sizes by a factor of ten or more, from what AMS 14C dating required sixteen years ago. The question of noncontemporaneous fiber from 16th Century repairs, for example, could be addressed by new 14C measurements on just 100µg of fibers (~50, 1 cm linen fibers) from the main part of the Shroud. The expected standard uncertainty would be equivalent to approximately 120 radiocarbon years (, Eq. 1)." (Currie, L.A., "The remarkable metrological history of radiocarbon dating [II]," Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Vol. 109, No.2, March 1, 2004).
As for "the pollen COULD have come from dusts in a storage room where booty from the crusades was kept," apart from conceding that the Shroud had a history prior to its appearance in France in the 1350s (i.e. it was the Shroud displayed in Constantinople in 1204, and was captured by the crusaders), that explanation would seem unlikely: 1) for Frei collection pollens which were reportedly taken from deep within the Shroud's surface; and 2) of pollens from Palestinian plants; especially 3) if they returned a 1st-6th century radiocarbon date, i.e. well before the First Crusade (1095-1099).
The above is self-explanatory and was the subject of further emails, so I will defer my comments to them. To be continued in Response #2 of this series.
See `tagline' quotes by, or about, Dr. Meacham.
"STURP succeed better than in laying to rest the theory that the Shroud was the work of a human hand. Perhaps these remarks by Meacham best explain the incredible gulf between STURP and the skeptics:
Even if one ignored the very compelling evidence to the contrary and granted McCrone's interpretation of the iron particles and protein, all one could conclude would be that minute traces of a solution or ointment containing pure hematite are present in the body imprint. This is a far cry from proving the image to be a painting. As STURP responded to McCrone's first pronouncements, microscopic observations do not exist in a vacuum. McCrone is somewhat like Mearn's little man who wasn't there again today. He declined at least two invitations to discuss his findings in the multidisciplinary framework of STURP He declined invitations to present his work at scientific congresses. He did not follow the STURP `Covenant' which he signed, to publish in peer reviewed scientific literature. And as he admits, he has not responded in print to the arguments of Heller and Adler, Pellicori, Riggi, and Schwalbe and Rogers on the physics and chemistry of the image. He has abandoned his earlier claims of a synthetic iron oxide (Post-1800) in the image and of a pigment enhancement of a genuine image.... the established facts are more than sufficient to refute the medieval clever-artistry hypothesis. A forger could have obtained a middle-east cloth, could have used some primate blood (and serum), could have depicted the body in flawless anatomical detail, and the pigment could have disappeared leaving a faint dehydration image-but that all of these unprecedented circumstances should have coalesced in the production of a single relic is virtually impossible to imagine.' [Meacham, W., "The Authentication of the Turin Shroud: An Issue in Archaeological Epistemology," Current Anthropology, Vol. 24, No. 3, June 1983, pp. 283-311, p.308]
The bottom line for McCrone and all who follow with various painting-based hypotheses, is that the now heavily documented, independently confirmed, peer-reviewed work of STURP clearly has virtually eliminated the possibility that the Shroud image could be the result of an applied pigment. All of the electromagnetic spectrum, all of the chemical data, even all of the physics of the image mitigate against a man-made image." (Stevenson, K.E. & Habermas, 1990, "The Shroud and the Controversy," Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville TN, p.30. Emphasis original).
"Unfortunately, Mueller, Nickell, and others who have jumped onto the McCrone bandwagon seem blissfully unaware that for purely technical reasons the painting theory, regardless of the methodology, is a dead issue. Amazingly enough they continue to flog away at the now rotting carcass of this long dead horse. Nickell, for example, touts a dusting/rubbing method which obviously would leave a heavy distribution of chemicals between the fibers of the cloth and on its reverse side. Body paintings and rubbings invariably contain pigment layers and distortion in three-dimensional projection, all of which are absent on the Shroud. In addition, STURP member John Jackson, using the Nickell technique, found severe difficulties in its lack of distance information. ... Keep in mind that this method was investigated despite the fact that it failed to match the known chemical characteristics of the Shroud. Nor was the technique known in medieval times:
Clearly, to be testable and viable, the hypothesis must derive from or at least not conflict with the known elements of 14th-century art. This it manifestly fails to do.... there is no rubbing from the entire medieval period that is even remotely comparable to the Shroud, nor is there any negative painting. Nickell's wet-mold-dry-daub technique was not known in medieval times according to art historian Husband and even that technique fails to reproduce the contour precision and three-dimensional effect, the lack of saturation points, and the resolution of the Shroud image. [Meacham, W., "The Authentication of the Turin Shroud: An Issue in Archaeological Epistemology," Current Anthropology, Vol. 24, No. 3, June 1983, pp. 283-311, p.308]"
(Stevenson & Habermas, 1990, p.31. Emphasis original).
"I want to make it clear from the outset that if we are to arrive at a solid conclusion concerning the age of the Shroud, C-14 is not nor should it be the acid test of the Shroud's possible authenticity. Meacham put it extremely well at the 1986 Hong Kong Shroud Symposium:
There appears to be an unhealthy consensus approaching the level of dogma among both scientists and lay commentators [that C-14 dating will] settle the issue once and for all time. This attitude simply contradicts the general perspective of field archaeologists and geologists [notice these are the ones most likely to need accurate dating on a regular basis] who view possible contamination as a very serious problem in interpreting the results of radiocarbon measurement ... I find little awareness of the limitations of the C14 method, an urge to `date first and ask questions later,' and a general disregard for the close collaboration between field and laboratory personnel which is the ideal in archaeometric projects ... statements quoted (from Shroud researchers both pro and con) reveal an unwarranted trust in radiocarbon measurement to produce an exact calendar date.... I doubt anyone with significant experience in dating ... would dismiss ... the potential danger of contamination and other sources of error. No responsible field archaeologist would trust a single date, or a series of dates on a single feature, to settle a major historical issue.... No responsible radiocarbon scientist would claim that it was proven that all contaminants had been removed and that the dating range was ... its actual calendar date.' [Meacham, W., "Radiocarbon Measurement and the Age of the Turin Shroud: Possibilities and Uncertainties," Proceedings of the Symposium "Turin Shroud - Image of Christ?," Hong Kong, March 1986]
... Remember this comes from a scientist who, though recognizing C-14 `is not an infallible technique, and ... contamination ... is always to be taken seriously,' nevertheless `excavated and prepared and submitted ... more than 70 samples ... and had liaison with major C-14 laboratories at Oxford [a selected lab], Canberra and Teledyne' in his own archaeological work." (Stevenson & Habermas, 1990, pp.51-52. Emphasis original).
"The [radiocarbon-dating] labs' interpretation of the dating results was prejudicial. The labs stated they had `proof of forgery,' which certainly undermines their professed objectivity in the light of the other published, peer-reviewed technical data on the Shroud that have not yet been successfully refuted. [Meacham, W., "Comments on the British Museum's Involvement in Carbon Dating the Turin Shroud," Hong Kong, Nov. 1988, p.2] Indeed, this data have been largely confirmed by others in their respective fields of expertise." (Stevenson, & Habermas, 1990, p.58).
"Whatever the final verdict on the initial C-14 testing, presently it has only added a serious degree of confusion at a crucial turn in Shroud studies. Having built up the dating as the `be all and end all' of sindonology, Turin authorities are now faced with the extremely disappointing results. Moreover, they appear to have accepted very questionable data without question. Fortunately, however, efforts are even now underway to petition Turin and the Vatican to seek a more scientific `second' opinion. If all these tests had produced different dates, controversy would have raged for years while the main issues were pushed aside. Since all the tests apparently have produced a medieval date, even C-14 experts as diverse in opinion as Gove (who rejects the Shroud's authenticity) and Meacham (who accepts the Shroud's authenticity) are beginning to shout `Foul!' over the protocols alone." (Stevenson & Habermas, 1990, p.59).
"Also no one has taken into account the bizarre history of the Shroud itself and what impact that might have had on the dating. Meacham spelled it out this way: `For the Shroud, there is a 600-year history in a number of different environments and unknown handling situations, and a possible further 1300-year existence during which the object could have been in contact with virtually any natural or man-made substance in the areas it was held. To measure Shroud samples, one must therefore consider every possible type of contamination and attempt to identify and counter them all.' [Interview, 15 July 1988]. (Stevenson & Habermas, 1990, pp.59-60).
"Listen to most physicists talking about the accuracy of carbon dating, and you may be led to believe that it is about as inviolable as the high-society world of 1912 thought the Titanic unsinkable, and that therefore the shroud dating result should be accepted without question. But listen to many an archaeologist, the actual users of carbon dating, and it is a different story. Years before the submission of the shroud to carbon dating, Bill Meacham, an American archaeologist with the Hong Kong Museum of History warned of the dangers of regarding carbon dating as an arbiter on the shroud. [Meacham, W., "On Carbon Dating the Turin shroud," Shroud Spectrum International, 19, June 1986, pp. 15-25] Among a long list of individuals whom Meacham chided for putting too great a reliance on carbon dating was myself, who in 1978 rather rashly and over-confidently wrote that it should settle `once and for all ... the question whether or not the shroud is a fourteenth-century forgery.' [Wilson, I., "The Turin Shroud," Penguin, 1979, p. 264] The fact is that for any layman one of carbon dating's most misleading features is the seemingly very precise margin of error claimed: in the case of the shroud a quoted 95 per cent probability or `confidence limit' for it dating sometime between 1260 and 1390. Too rarely understood is that these margins represent hypothetical statistical concepts, rather than necessarily the actual parameters of the true date. For there can be no doubt that even the most recent archaeology is littered with examples of such widely variegated results that the quoted margins of error can only be regarded as very seriously misleading. " (Wilson, I., 1991, "Holy Faces, Secret Places: The Quest for Jesus' True Likeness," Doubleday: London, pp.172-173).