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So imagine getting your hands on a previously unknown portrait by Leonardo, a work like this, a profile of a mysterious young woman.

If it really is a Leonardo, it could be worth a hundred million dollars.

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Though the Catholic Church has never taken an official stance on the object's authenticity, tens of thousands flock to Turin, Italy, every year to get a glimpse of the object, believing that it wrapped the bruised and bleeding body of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion. 1204, the cloth was smuggled to safety in Athens, Greece, where it stayed until A. Centuries later, in the 1980s, radiocarbon dating, which measures the rate at which different isotopes of the carbon atoms decay, suggested the shroud was made between A. What's more, the Gospel of Matthew notes that "the earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open" after Jesus was crucified.

[Religious Mysteries: 8 Alleged Relics of Jesus] According to legend, the shroud was secretly carried from Judea in A. 30 or 33, and was housed in Edessa, Turkey, and Constantinople (the name for Istanbul before the Ottomans took over) for centuries. So geologists have argued that an earthquake at Jesus' death could have released a burst of neutrons.

If researchers can one day figure out how to test the isotopes in the limestone dust found on the shroud, they could say with greater certainty whether the shroud was ever in Jerusalem, he said.

Tia has interned at Science News, Wired.com, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has written for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Scientific American, and Science Now.

The neutron burst not only would have thrown off the radiocarbon dating but also would have led to the darkened imprint on the shroud. In the current study, Barcaccia and his colleagues analyzed dust that they vacuumed from the shroud that contained traces of both plant and human DNA.

The plant DNA came from all over the world, the researchers reported Oct. European spruce trees; Mediterranean clovers, ryegrasses and plantains; North American black locust trees; and rare East Asian pear and plum trees all left their mark on the cloth.

Given that the cloth was publicly displayed for centuries, it's not surprising that so many people touched it, Farey added.

"Apart from ruling out the United States of America as the source for the shroud, it leaves just about everything else open," Farey said.

"In my opinion, it is hard to believe that in the past centuries, in a historical interval spanning the medieval period, different subjects — such as priests, monks or nuns, as well [as] devotees and other subjects of Indian ancestry — have had the possibility to come in contact with the shroud in France and/or Turin," Barcaccia said.

Unsettled question But the new results don't settle questions about the shroud's authenticity, said Hugh Farey, editor of the British Society of the Turin Shroud newsletter. ] As far as the plant DNA goes, "they've done a good job, and they've identified a number of species that mean, broadly speaking, nothing at all," Farey told Live Science.

"So the proper thing to do is to maintain an open mind at the moment." However, using DNA analysis and more sophisticated scientific techniques could ultimately settle the question, Farey said.

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