Science brought the Shroud of Turin into prominence and now science has shoved it back toward obscurity.
Despite the turnabout, the puzzling cloth doubtlessly will remain to many an object of fascination.However, results disclosed last week from radiocarbon tests show the shroud is only about 700 years old and could not be the burial cloth of Jesus in the first century.
Many had believed the cloth was the one used to wrap Jesus' body after his crucifixion and at the time of his resurrection - a belief that had been strengthened by previous scientific findings.
But the latest tests at three separate laboratories in Britain, the U.S. and Switzerland, using highly sensitive dating techniques, found the shroud dated from between 1260 to 1390.
Nevertheless, the mystery of the image on the cloth remains. It shows, as in a photographic negative, the front and back of a scourged, crucified man. Scientists have been unable to determine how it got there.
A 32-member U.S. research team concluded in 1981, after spending five days subjecting the shroud to a wide range of tests, that the image is not the product of an artist and that it bears blood stains.
But what caused "the image is an ongoing mystery," the report said.
That question also remained unanswered by the latest radiocarbon tests.
The Rev. Adam Otterbein, head of the Holy Shroud Guild, says there are many other unresolved questions, such as previous research claims that the image showed first-century coins over the victim's eyes.
Some scientists previously had suggested that the image was made by a sudden, intense blaze of light, such as that mentioned by Scripture at the time of the resurrection.
Others have theorized the image was caused by radiation, or by some sort of still unexplained chemical reaction between body secretions and the cloth, but that they have not been able to duplicate the effect by such processes.
The history of the 14-by-4-foot-long linen shroud can be traced to 1354, when it was deposited in Lirey, France, by a French nobleman who participated in Crusades to the Holy Land.
The cloth has been kept since 1578 in Turin, Italy, where the Catholic archbishop of Turin is its official guardian.
It drew little attention until scientific investigations of it began about the turn of the century, starting with 1898 photographs revealing the image on the shroud had characteristics of a photographic negative.