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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.

Her fieldwork in Malawi uncovered two human leg bones that yielded 6,100-year-old DNA—and her work is ongoing at a site where a newly dated skeleton with 8,100-year-old DNA was recovered several years ago.

paper ranges in age from 3,000-to-500 years ago and comes from South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya.

"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.