Are There Roman Lepta Coin Images on the Eyes on the Shroud of Turin?

Images of coins, minted by Pontius Pilate for use in Palestine, have been tentatively identified over both eyes of the man whose image is seen on the Shroud. But is the identification valid?

In 1978, scientists, including Dr. John P. Jackson and Dr. Eric J. Jumper, while working with NASA's VP-8 3-D Image Analyzer, discovered what appeared to be raised button-like shapes over each eye.

About 1980, the Rev. Francis Filas, S.J., of Loyola University in Chicago and Michael Marx, an expert in classical coins, examined the area over the right eye and detected patterns of what appeared to be the letters UCAI (from TIBERIOU CAISARUS). They also found a lituus design (an auger's staff). Father Filas concluded that this was a lituus lepton coin minted by Pontius Pilate between 29 and 32 CE. Over the left eye, Father Filas also identified what he believed to be a Juolia lepton with a distinctive sheaf of barley design. The Juolia lepton was only struck in 29 CE in honor of Tiberius Caesar's wife, Julia.

Subsequent computerized image enhancement analysis at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University's Spatial Data Analysis Laboratory supports, though cautiously, the existence of the lituus lepton over the right eye and an outline of a coin over the left eye.

By overlaying polarized images, Alan Whanger at Duke University identified both coins. Alan found 74 points of congruence with an existing lituus lepton and 73 points with a Juolia lepton. But such identification is highly interpretive and other researchers do not find the same level of congruence.

The UCAI Problem

Though the lepta (plural of lepton) minted in Palestine were Roman produced coins, the inscription of Tiberius Caesar would have been written in Greek as TIBERIOU KAISAROS. Was the C, where a K was expected, a misspelling? This was a problem that seemed to preclude positive identification until an actual lituus lepton was found with the aberrant spelling. Several have since been found. This anomaly seems to give credence to the coins identification.

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