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The reddish color of bloodstains on the Shroud of Turin: investigation of two hypotheses

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One of the most intriguing examples of aged bloodstains on an archeological textile are those found on the Shroud of Turin, a controversial linen cloth bearing the image of a man with wounds corresponding to scourging and crucifixion. Previous studies have demonstrated that the bloodstains test positive for various blood components including hemoglobin, albumin, and immunoglobulin, indicating they are not merely paint or pigment; however, as noted by many who have examined the cloth, the bloodstains are more reddish than would be expected for aged blood. It has been suggested that the reddish color may be a consequence of a residual coating of Saponaria, a softening agent used in the processing of ancient linen that contains hemolytic properties. Alternatively, the reddish color has been proposed to result from a high bilirubin content in the blood, transferred from a body that had undergone severe physical trauma. Here, both hypotheses are examined to assess the effects of such circumstances on bloodstain color over time. No effect of hemolysis on bloodstain color was observed, although, unexpectedly, it was found that a reddish color did persist in blood added to material that had been pre-treated with glycerin. Bloodstains with a high bilirubin content were not found to maintain a reddish color, regardless of the specific form of bilirubin present. The implications of these studies for bloodstain evaluation on the Shroud of Turin are discussed.


Shroud of Turin, bloodstains, hemolysis, saponin, bilirubin