Could the Shroud of Turin be explained by an earthquake? That remarkable possibility has been suggested by a new study, led by Alberto Carpinteri of the Politecnico di Torino in Italy. 

The Shroud of Turin has been the subject of controversy for decades. Scientific examinations of the cloth have been unable to confirm its origin. 

Millions of people claim the shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. Others say the artifact is an elaborate hoax, played by artists centuries ago. The Catholic Church has no official position on the authenticity of the artifact. Still, tens of thousands of people every year visit Turin Cathedral. 

Now researchers say neutron emission from an ancient earthquake in Jerusalem may have created the artifact. Researchers concluded the quake could have created the image on the cloth, and altered radiocarbon levels. The magnitude 8.2 earthquake struck in the year A.D. 33. 

As living organisms breathe, they bring carbon into their bodies, along with a certain amount of radioactive carbon-14. After death, the radioactive isotope decays at a constant rate. This allows archeologists to date the age of anything which once lived. 

In 1989, the journal Nature published a study that puts the age of the Shroud of Turnin at less than 800 years old. This dated the cloth to between A.D. 1260 and 1390. in other words, this would have been far too late to be the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified in or around A.D. 33. The Shroud was said to have first appeared in Europe in the 14th Century, when a knight from France brought it to the city of Lirey. 

The correlation of dates between radiocarbon dating and the earliest reports of the shroud delighted skeptics of the divine nature of the cloth. Some observers charged the sample used for the study was taken from a repair made in the medieval period. Others said fires may have altered the chemistry of the cloth. 

Carpinteri and his team, however, believe high-frequency waves produced by stresses in the crust of the Earth may have been formed during the quake. These are called piezonuclear fission reactions. They were able to demonstrate this through a small demonstration using a laboratory instrument, designed to create high pressures on materials. 

The researcher believes these natural emissions may have formed the distinctive image of a man's body on the shroud. He said he believes that interactions between neutrons and nitrogen in the cloth may have altered the carbon-14 balance in the cloth. 

Some critics of Carpinteri's research say evidence for his conclusions is lacking. Some want to know why this process has never been seen before, despite over 200 years of serious archeological research. 

Radiocarbon dating of artifacts from areas where earthquakes are common still provides a reliable measurement of age. Some skeptics question why the Shroud of Turin is the only artifact ever found to be affected by this process. 

The mystery continues.

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