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Some more 3D scanning in science

by Bruno Van de Casteele

December 8, 2013

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Donate One of the finer moments when writing for this blog, is when people who you mention in the article, contact you. In my post on Napoleon's battlefield in Borodino (Russia) the podcaster Cameron Reilly contacted me to discuss why the campaign wasn't a defeat but a strategic withdrawal. That discussion happened over Twitter, but 140 characters isn't quite enough for a nuanced argument. It was fun nevertheless.

Out of this article on the scanning of archeological finds at the battlefield came also another feedback. That type of scanner has a big advantage: it doesn't have to touch the object in order to make precise measurements. So for any historical object that's too fragile to touch, this is a great solution, and as with the battlefield, much faster than any "old" method. Artec3D, the manufacturer of this scanner, is promoting various uses of their models.

But you wouldn't probably guess for what skeptical purpose professor Miñarro from Seville University used it. He scanned the Sacred Shroud of Oviedo, a bloodstained cloth purportedly wrapped around the head of Jesus of Nazareth after he died. His goal was to obtain an exact measurement of the cloth. As the cloth is itself permanently deformed and too fragile to touch, the scanner was the ideal solution.

It is a bit unclear to me what exactly he wants to do by scanning this shroud or Sudarium from Oviedo. He works in the department of the history of fine arts and sculpture. It seems he might want to reconstruct the head (real or fake?) that was in this cloth, or produce an exact facsimile. He does not publish in English, so I cannot verify in Google Scholar his line of work.

As the Wikipedia page points out, some have tried to link this Sudarium with the Shroud of Turin, but the radio-carbon dates don't match up (the one from Oviedo might be at least 600 years younger). I'm actually hoping that professor Miñarro is not using this technology to "prove" that both cloths touched the same "person" or even object. But there might be some interesting art historical perspective on the "face" that was used for the presumed fakery for this cloth. I remember that the face on the Shroud of Turin has been shown to resemble "Gothic" art more than an actual human being.

Anyway, it still proves that new technologies help us understand more about historical objects. And whatever the purpose was for this investigation, the techniques can be applied for other objects, too, with less risk of damaging the object itself. As such, it is a nice addition to the practice of archeologists to re-use written off CT scanners from hospitals. I wrote about that here, and it seems professor Miñarro has also applied it here to supplement his findings. If anyone is fluent in Spanish, can you confirm his work is not meant to prove some quackery?

To celebrate my one year of blogging at Skeptoid, I'm revisiting this month some of the topics I discussed here during the last year. Not necessarily a follow-up, but a way to show that science keeps progressing. Because, you know, science actually works!

by Bruno Van de Casteele

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