A radiocarbon (or carbon 14) analysis has not been done on the shroud. Although this would require the destruction of only about a half square inch of material for each analysis, permission to perform these tests has not been forthcoming. To some this reluctance to grant permission has seemed unreasonable, but church authorities are well aware that a valid carbon-14 analysis would require independent tests on the part of several laboratories, each requiring a piece of material. And, of course, the results of any such analysis would probably be disputed and then followed by a call for a new series of tests. Such tests also would be unlikely to be accepted as proof of a late date for the shroud because the test results showing a late date would be attributed to contamination, a not unreasonable suggestion in light of everything the shroud has been through. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that test results showing a first century A.D. date would very significantly buttress the case for the shroud’s authenticity.
Other efforts and studies to determine the date when the cloth was made have been inconclusive. In 1973 Professor Gilbert Raes of the Ghent Institute of Textile Technology in Belgium carefully examined portions of the linen fabric of the shroud. Its three-to-one herringbone weave, a common enough pattern in many different periods, is known to have been utilized in Roman times, but the two known surviving examples, both dating from about the third century A.D., were woven of silk rather than of linen. Raes detected stray cotton fibers in the shroud’s weave and concluded that its linen fabric had been woven on a loom used also for the weaving of cotton. Some scholars, including Ian Wilson, then concluded that the fabric of the shroud had to have come from the Middle East, since, as Wilson says, ‘Cotton is not grown in Europe” (p. 54). Put that way, the argument will not stand. If cotton does have a much longer history as a fabric in the eastern Mediterranean than in Europe, Middle Eastern cotton fiber began to appear in southern Europe in the 12th century and became a regular article of commerce between Venice and northern Europe as early as 1320. A 14th century European piece of linen could contain stray cotton fibers just as well as a first-century Palestinian cloth.
Investigators of ancient fabrics often examine pollen caught in the weave of a fabric as a means to ascertain in a rough way the origin and date of the cloth. A Swiss criminologist, Max Frei, collected various samples of pollen from the shroud and discovered among them distinctive pollen from six desert plants native only to the Palestine region. While this convinced Frei of the shroud’s authenticity, others argued that this object could have picked up airborne pollen from the Middle East at those times when it was put on display and that, further, pollen from various sources could have been transferred to the shroud by the many objects which people took and touched it with. Heller recounts how one cleric came up to the shroud and touched it with a handkerchief which he had kept for years unlaundered in his pocket ever since he had gone to Jerusalem and had touched it to the Holy Sepulchre. “Untold bizarre materials,” concluded Heller, “must have had contact with the Shroud’s surface” (p. 170). The resulting clutter of particles embedded in the shroud makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions on the basis of Frei’s discoveries. The presence of pollen from native Palestinian plants does not prove that the shroud itself was ever in Palestine, much less that it originated there.