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Still, Farey said he's about 40 percent convinced the shroud is authentic and about 60 percent inclined to believe it is a forgery."There is a pretty substantial amount of evidence on both sides," Farey said.In contrast, there are so many unknowns when it comes to describing how dust settled onto the shroud."It is very bold and completely wrong to use the same interpretational approach on the presence of DNA — or just a few pollen grains, for that matter — on a shroud that has been man-handled for decades," Enevold said.Though the Catholic Church has never taken an official stance on the object's authenticity, tens of thousands flock to Turin, Italy, every year to get a glimpse of the object, believing that it wrapped the bruised and bleeding body of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion. 1204, the cloth was smuggled to safety in Athens, Greece, where it stayed until A. Centuries later, in the 1980s, radiocarbon dating, which measures the rate at which different isotopes of the carbon atoms decay, suggested the shroud was made between A. What's more, the Gospel of Matthew notes that "the earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open" after Jesus was crucified.[Religious Mysteries: 8 Alleged Relics of Jesus] According to legend, the shroud was secretly carried from Judea in A. 30 or 33, and was housed in Edessa, Turkey, and Constantinople (the name for Istanbul before the Ottomans took over) for centuries. So geologists have argued that an earthquake at Jesus' death could have released a burst of neutrons.

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"Apart from ruling out the United States of America as the source for the shroud, it leaves just about everything else open," Farey said.

"We cannot say anything more on its origin." The new findings don't rule out either the notion that the long strip of linen is a medieval forgery or that it's the true burial shroud of Jesus Christ, the researchers said. 1390, lending credence to the notion that it was an elaborate fake created in the Middle Ages.

Long-standing debate On its face, the Shroud of Turin is an unassuming piece of twill cloth that bears traces of blood and a darkened imprint of a man's body. However, the Catholic Church only officially recorded its existence in A. 1353, when it showed up in a tiny church in Lirey, France. (Isotopes are forms of an element with a different number of neutrons.) But critics argued that the researchers used patched-up portions of the cloth to date the samples, which could have been much younger than the rest of the garment.

If researchers can one day figure out how to test the isotopes in the limestone dust found on the shroud, they could say with greater certainty whether the shroud was ever in Jerusalem, he said.

Tia has interned at Science News, Wired.com, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has written for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Scientific American, and Science Now.

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