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Shroud of Turin Offers Some DNA

A team of Italian researchers has analyzed DNA obtained from the Shroud of Turin, a burial cloth that's traditionally thought to have covered Jesus.

Previous analyses of the shroud have traced its origin to between 1260 and 1390 AD, though the chemistry of the linen fibers and the production method used doesn't suggest such a medieval origin, the researchers note. But, they add that some scholars say the shroud traveled from Jerusalem to Constantinople in 944 AD via Edessa, and from there to Athens and was later in France from 1353 to 1357 and then in Italy, where it's been since 1578.

As the team led by Università di Pavia's Antonio Torroni writes in Scientific Reports, they examined DNA obtained from dust vacuumed from the cloth, finding DNA belonging to plants, but also to people representing a range of Western Eurasian mitochondrial haplotype groups.

The most abundant plant taxa the team identified belong to the genus Picea, which includes a number of species native to Europe like spruce trees. They also identified DNA from plants native to the Mediterranean basin, but also DNA from some New World plants.

In addition, Torroni and his colleagues identified mitochondrial DNA that belonged to numerous individuals — some six subgroups of haplotype H were present as well as representatives from haplogroups U2, U5, R0a, R7, R8, L3c, M39, and M56.

Haplogroup H1, the researchers note, is common among Western Europeans, while haplogroup U2 is mostly found in South Asians, though a subgroup of that haplogroup is present in about 1 percent of Europeans, and haplogroup R0a is mostly found among people from the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.

Torroni and his colleagues say that their findings are consistent with either a medieval, Western European origin for the shroud or a Middle Eastern origin.