The late Dr. Max Frei, noted Swiss criminologist, takes sticky tape samples from the Shroud of Turin. Dr. Frei pressed the tape onto the cloth with his thumb, causing dust, pollen and other particulate matter to stick to the tape and be lifted from the fibers of the Shroud. Dr. Frei claimed he found pollen grains on the Shroud from now extinct plants indigenous to Palestine. Ray Rogers of Los Alamos Laboratories, the team member responsible for taking STURP’s own tape samples, looks on as Frei works.
Pollen evidence is widely cited by many as evidence for the authenticity of the shroud. However, it is considered to be a type C evidence according to the ShroudScience group.
C4) Pollen grains relative to the zones of Palestine, Edessa, Constantinople and Europe were
found (Frei 1979, 1983; Danin 1999).
Pollen study on the shroud was pioneered by Max Frei, a Swiss criminologist.
Dr MAX FREI was an internationally acclaimed criminologist, held a doctorate in Botany and was a recognized botanical expert regarding the Mediterranean flora. He founded the city of Zurich Police’s Central Scientific Department in 1948 and was its director for twenty-five years. From 1952 on, he began lecturing in criminology at the Swiss Police Institute at Neuchatel and at the German Police Institute at Hiltrup. He was scientific editor of the German review Kriminalistik, was regularly consulted by police forces in Germany and Italy, as well as his native Switzerland, and in 1961 was appointed by the United Nations to become one of the senior investigators into the death of their Secretary-General Dag Hammerskjold. In his criminological work, Frei routinely used analysis of pollens on a suspect’s clothing, to assess whether he might or might not have been at a particular crime scene.
Swiss criminalist Max Frei-Sulzer made many contributions to the field of forensic science in his lifetime, including founding the first Swiss criminalistics laboratory, and developing the tape life method of collecting trace evidence . He is also known for debatable findings he made in two high-profile identification cases, the authenticity of the Hitler Diaries and the Shroud of Turin.
Born in 1913, Frei-Sulzer worked as a freelance criminalist for many years in Switzerland. He also taught microscopical techniques at Zurich University, and in 1950, he was asked to create the first Swiss crime laboratory, the Zurich Police Scientific Laboratory. While director of the facility, he developed the tape lift method for evidence collection. By applying a piece of sticky tape to a surface, a scientist can collect particles that can then be examined under a microscope. The tape preserves the spatial relationship of the particles and fibers. This technique was a major advance in trace analysis, and is a method still used today.
In 1973, he took some tape samples off the shroud and studied the pollen.
In 1973, Frei-Sulzer served as a consultant to a commission investigating the authenticity of the famous Shroud of Turin, a cloth depicting the image of a crucified man that some believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus. Frei-Sulzer took samples from the cloth using the tape lift method, and studied the samples for two years.
November 24, 1973: The Shroud is secretly examined by a new Commission of experts, brought together by Cardinal Pellegrino. On this occasion Professor Gilbert Raes takes from one edge of the Shroud’s frontal end one 40×13-mm sample, also from the side-strip one 40×10-mm portion, together with one 13-mm warp thread and one 12-mm weft thread. Dr. Max Frei, Swiss criminologist, is among the other specialists present, and is allowed to take 12 samples of surface dust from the Shroud’s extreme frontal end, using adhesive tape to remove these. The Shroud is returned to its casket the same evening.
He found many particles from the tape samples, including pollen.
In 1973 Frei was granted permission to take some sticky-tape samples of the dust that he had noticed on the Shroud’s cloth surface. He took twelve sticky-tape samples, which he studied under the microscope in his Zurich Laboratory. As Frei expected, the tapes contained microscopic debris from a lot of different sources. To give an idea we add a list
of these materials observed by him and others:
1) Power-station fly ash (FIAT factory in Turin).
2) Specks of various metals (iron, bronze, silver, gold—think of silver casket).
3) Several wire-like objects like metal shavings (confirmed on the X-rays 1978).
4) Particles of fabric, red silk, blue linen, plain cotton, plain wool, pink nylon.
5) Artist’s pigments, iron oxide, vermillion, madder(red), ultramarine(blue), orpiment(yellow).
6) Pollens not covered with a calcium layer (backside-pollen have this layer).
7) Mineral deposits.
Frei was a pioneer in forensic palynology (study of dust particles). During that time, there was not a database of pollen samples that we currently have. So, in order for Frei to compare the shroud pollen with, he travelled to Turkey and Israel to collect pollen samples. He found samples in Turkey and Israel were similar to pollen found on the shroud.
Frei wrote a report on his finding in Shroud Spectrum International.
I succeeded in identifying 57 different plants which have left microscopical evidence
on the Shroud (56 in the form of pollen, one in the form of typical multicellular hairs).
As a by-product of my microscopical studies, I could identify hairs of Platanus
orientalis and epidermis cells of Aloe socotrina. Probably aloes and myrrh were used as
spices in the provisional burial of the Crucified.
With regard to their geographical area and their ecological properties, the plants belong
to a few very characteristic groups:
A. DESERT PLANTS, either from sand deserts or halophytes, i.e., plants growing in soils
with a very high concentration of salt. In the lands of the Bible, many of these plants
grow around the Dead Sea and are completely missing in Italy and France. They could
not have contaminated the Shroud during the last six centuries of its known
history. To this group belong the following 16 species:
Anabasis aphylla L.
Acacia albida Del.
Artemisia Herba-alba L.*
Bassia muricata Asch.
Echinops glaberimus DC
Fagonia mollis Del.
Haloxylon persicum Bg.
Haplophyllum tuberculatum Juss.*
Oligomeris subulata Boiss.
Peganum Harmala L.*
Prosopis farcta Macbr.*
Pteranthus dichotomus Forsk.*
Reaumurea hirtella J. +Sp.
Suaeda aegyptiaca Zoh.
Tamarix nilotica Bunge
Zygophyllum dumosum Boiss.
B. PLANTS OF ROCKY HILLS AND STONY PLACES (RUINS) in Palestine and neighboring
countries (7 species).
Gundelia turnefortii L. *
Helianthemum vesicarium Boiss.
Hyoscyamus aureus L.
Hyoscyamus reticulatus L.*
Onosma syriacum Labill.
Scabiosa prolifera L.*
Two of these groups still grow nowadays on the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem:
Hyoscyamus aureus L. and Onosma syriacum Labill.
C. MEDITERRANEAN PLANTS (16 species).
These grow in biblical Palestine as well as in France and Italy. The contamination of the Shroud
with these plants might have occurred in any country with Mediterranean vegetation, except for
those varieties which grow only in the Eastern Basin.
Althaea officinalis L.
Anemone coronaria L.
Cedrus libanotica LK.
Cistus creticus L.
Cupressus sempervirens L.
Juniperus oxycedrus L.
Laurus nobilis L.
Paliurus spina-christi Mill.
Phyllirea angustifolia L.
Pinus halepensis L.
Pistacia lentiscus L.
Pistacia vera L.
Poterium spinosum L.
Ricinus communis L.
Ridolfia segetum Moris
Silene conoidea L.
D. PLANTS FROM ANATOLIA, mostly steppic plants (16 species). To this group of plants from
the Near East, partly with areas from Iran to the Eastern Mediterranean, belong the following
species from the Shroud:
Atraphaxis spinosa L.
Glaucium grandiflorum B. +H.
Ixolirium montanum Herb.
Linum mucronatum Bert.
Prunus spartioides Spach.
Roemeria hybrida DC.
The contamination of the Shroud with these pollens could not have happened in Europe.
Therefore these plants must be considered as strong evidence in favor of the Shroud’s stay in
Edessa as stipulated by Ian Wilson and other historians.
He had died before he could publish a book on his findings.
Dr. Frei collected hundreds of pollen grains from the shroud, but he died in 1982 before he could finish examining and publishing all of his findings.
January 14, 1983: Death of Dr. Max Frei, leaving unfinished the book he was writing on his pollen findings. His estate, with all his Shroud materials, passes to his widow Gertrud and their son Ulrich.
There is no dispute pollen is on the shroud.
February 16, 1986: Shroud Conference at Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, at which some of Dr. Max Frei’s pollen samples are examined by the attendees, who include Walter McCrone. McCrone almost immediately confirms observing pollen.
What is disputed is if the pollen links the shroud to first century Jerusalem and medieval Turkey.
One problem is Frei sampled contemporary pollen from the East. The more accurate method would be to compare it to pollen found in sedimentary deposits dated to the period in question.
As he explained: “Normally a core is taken from some
sedimentary deposit, and by simple analysis of the pollens at different
levels, a picture can be built up of changes of flora in one region over
a given period.”
Also, pollen identification is rarely at the species level, but species-group or type level.
Smithsonian botanist Richard H. Eyde (1986) observed that
the real problem with Frei’s work was that he claimed to do that which was
suspect. Eyde noted that pollen identification “is not to species save in rare
cases; rather it is to this or that ‘type’ of [pollen] grain—or to genus or
Of his 58 plant types, Frei identified all but two at species level.
This has been roundly condemned on theoretical grounds, as even 30
years later, with better preparation methods and better microscopes,
palynologists still find it difficult to identify pollen precisely even at genus
level, preferring to classify it according to “type.” (12) Uri Baruch, who
examined 31 of the slides onto which Frei had transferred his pollen for
identification, was only able to confirm four species, and even one of those
has been seriously called into question.
Farey notes the proportion of insect borne pollen is too high compared to wind borne pollen.
Under natural circumstances, the vast majority of any
pollen assemblage would be from wind-borne pollen, and the Frei
samples consist of a vast disproportion of insect-borne pollen.
Farey claims the shroud was not exposed long enough in Jerusalem to have significant pollen from that area on it.
If the Shroud is truly that of Christ, it seems unlikely that it was
exposed to the elements in Israel for very long before being hurried away
in hiding, perhaps through Turkey to Constantinople, where it may have
been sporadically exposed to the faithful before being looted by crusaders
and taken to France.
Only about 38% of
Frei’s pollens are from trees and shrubs, and virtually none from grasses.
Furthermore, over 10% flower in the second half of the year, which would
of course, be too late for the crucifixion and resurrection.
The problem with this criticism is we don’t know how long the shroud was in the Jerusalem area after the resurrection. It could’ve potentially been many decades before the shroud was moved to Edessa.
Overall, Frei did do pioneering work with pollen and the shroud. But since he never published his findings, we don’t know what is his official final conclusion.
A recent study on the pollen was done in 2015. It concluded the shroud was compatible with a Palestinian origin.
We studied by SEM-EDX analysis the pollens on the Face of the Turin Shroud. A total of ten pollen grains were found; they were photographed, characterised and analysed. Three of them (pollens p6, p7 and p10) belong to Ceratonia siliqua, the carob tree; one of them (pollen p1) belongs to Balanites aegyptiaca (the palm tree of the desert), and another one (pollen p9) belongs to Cercis siliquastrum (the Judean tree). These three plants have their geographical distributions in the Near-East; that is indicative of a Palestinian origin of the Turin Shroud. Two pollen grains (p3 and p4) belong to Myosotis ramosissima. Probably myositis flowers were deposited later on the Turin Shroud, as reverence for this venerable and symbolic object.