It’s not uncommon for archaeologists to uncover Biblical elements in their work. Recently, we told you about a 2,700-year-old seal featuring Jesus’ birthplace and some ancient tools that were uncovered. Among the most notable recent developments, some are claiming that a handful of bones found in an ancient church in Bulgaria may belong to John the Baptist, the man who baptized Jesus Christ.
While some are embracing the idea, others will likely scoff at it. After all, there’s no sure-fire way to prove that the bones are, indeed, John the Baptist’s, as there’s nothing to compare them to for analysis. However, the suspicion that they may belong to him is hinged upon a number of circumstantial facts.
To begin, the sarcophagus of bone fragments was found near another box, which reads, “St. John” and has the date June 24 on it (this is a holy day associated with John the Baptist). While compelling, this, of course, falls short of proving that the bones belong to the Biblical figure.
LiveScience continues, providing more information about how the discovery came to fruition:
The bones were found in 2010 by Romanian archaeologists Kazimir Popkonstantinov and Rossina Kostova while excavating an old church site on the island of Sveti Ivan, which translates to St. John. The church was constructed in two periods in the fifth and sixth centuries.
Beneath the altar, the archaeologists found a small marble sarcophagus, about 6 inches long. Inside were six human bones and three animal bones. The next day, the researchers found a second box just 20 inches away. This one was made of volcanic rock called tuff. On it, an inscription read, “Dear Lord, please help your servant Thomas” along with St. John the Baptist’s name and official church feast day.
With little ability to triangulate the details, scientists set out to radiocarbon date the collagen present in one of the bones. The conclusion? It likely came from a man in the early first century. Additionally, University of Oxford researcher Thomas Higham claims that the bones probably belonged to someone from the Near or Middle East, the area where John the Baptist resided.
“We were surprised when the radiocarbon dating produced this very early age. We had suspected that the bones may have been more recent than this, perhaps from the third or fourth centuries,” Higham said. “However, the result from the metacarpal hand bone is clearly consistent with someone who lived in the early first century AD. Whether that person is John the Baptist is a question that we cannot yet definitely answer and probably never will.”
The human bones in the box are diverse: a knucklebone, tooth, part of the cranium, a rip and an ulna (arm bone). In the end, researchers were only able to date the knucklebone, as organic material is the basis for radiocarbon dating and the bone was the only one with enough collagen for analysis purposes. However, DNA sequences were constructed for all of the bones though, determining that they did, indeed, belong to the same individual.
You can read more about the research here.