The travel of the Turin Shroud passes through DAFNAE

Within a research project funded by the University of Padova in collaboration with the universities of Pavia and Perugia, DNA was extracted from samples of the Turin Shroud coming from parts of the body image and the lateral edge used for radiocarbon dating. The main objective was to determine the traces and number of taxonomic entities, both animals and plants, and the number of genotypic and ethnic units in the case of humans. Results were then related to historical and geographical information available for the species found, in order to shed light on the origin of the Shroud.

Our analyses – says Prof. Gianni Barcaccia of the DAFNAE department, coordinator of the research project – evidenced the presence of at least 19 different plant species, coming not only from the Mediterranean Area but also from Asia, mainly China, Middle East and America. Regarding human mitogenome lineages, our analyses detected sequences from multiple subjects of different ethnic origins, which clustered into a number of Western Eurasian haplogroups, including some known to be typical of Western Europe, the Near East, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian sub-continent. Such diversity does not exclude a Medieval origin in Europe but it would be also compatible with the historic path followed by the Turin Shroud during its presumed journey from the Near East.

In conclusion, the results on human DNA traces are compatible with two alternative scenarios: i) the cloth had a Medieval origin in Western Europe where people from different geographic regions and ethnic affiliations came in contact with it, possibly moved by the worship for the Christian relic; ii) the linen cloth had a Middle Eastern origin and was moved itself across the Mediterranean area, consequently coming across a wide range of local folks and devotes in a longer time span. Even in the latter case, the detection of DNA haplogroups that are typically from India is somehow unexpected. One obvious possibility is that during the course of centuries, individuals of Indian ancestry came into contact with the Shroud. Taking into account the rate of DNA degradation and PCR-biases toward undamaged DNA, the recent contamination scenario is extremely likely. However, one alternative and intriguing possibility is that the linen cloth was weaved in India, as supported perhaps by the original name of TS – Sindon – which appears to derive from Sindia or Sindien, a fabric coming from India.

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