John The Baptist Bones Possibly Discovered in Bulgarian Church (Photo)
A group of archaeologists from Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at Oxford University dated the knuckle bones found in 2010 by archaeologist Kazimir Popkonstantinov.
The results showed that it was that of a male dating back to 1st century AD who most probably came from the Middle East. This man is believed to be John the Baptist, the prophet who baptized Jesus Christ.
The remains, which include a knuckle bone, molar tooth and a piece of cranium, were found in July 2010 in a marble sarcophagus in the ruins of a medieval church on the island of Sveti Ivan, or Saint John, off Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast near the resort of Sozopol.
“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. 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,” said Professor Tom Higham, a self-confessed atheist, who performed the carbon dating to the alleged bones of John the Baptist.
“When I first heard this story in 2010 I thought it was a bit of a joke, to be honest. I’m much less skeptical than I was at the beginning. I think there’s possibly more to it. But I’d like to find out more,” he added.
Dr Hannes Schroeder, who led the group of researchers from the University of Copenhagen, contributed to the findings by reconstructing the mitochondrial DNA genome sequence from three of the bones.
“Our worry was that the remains might have been contaminated with modern DNA. However, the DNA we found in the samples showed damage patterns that are characteristic of ancient DNA, which gave us confidence in the results. Further, it seems somewhat unlikely that all three samples would yield the same sequence considering that they had probably been handled by different people. Both of these facts suggest that the DNA we sequenced was actually authentic. Of course, this does not prove that these were the remains of John the Baptist but nor does it refute that theory as the sequences we got fit with a Near Eastern origin, ” Dr. Schroeder said.
When first excavating the site two years ago, Bulgarian researchers discovered alongside the sarcophagus another small box made from volcanic ash and bearing an ancient Greek inscription referencing John the Baptist and his feast day as well as a personal prayer asking God to “help your servant Thomas.”
“One theory is that the person referred to as Thomas had been given the task of bringing the relics to the island. An analysis of the box has shown that the tuff box has a high waterproof quality and is likely to have originated from Cappadocia, a region of modern-day Turkey. The Bulgarian researchers believe that the bones probably came to Bulgaria via Antioch, an ancient Turkish city, where the right hand of St John was kept until the tenth century,” according to the findings of Bulgarian scientists.
The findings by these Bulgarian scientists were supported by another Oxford researcher Dr Georges Kazan who used historical documents to show that in the latter part of the fourth century, monks had taken relics of John the Baptist out of Jerusalem.
“My research suggests that during the fifth or early sixth century, the monastery of Sveti Ivan may well have received a significant portion of St John the Baptist’s relics, as well as a prestige reliquary in the shape of a sarcophagus, from a member of Constantinople’s elite. This gift could have been to dedicate or rededicate the church and the monastery to St John, which the patron or patrons may have supported financially,” Dr Georges Kazan said.
This new research from Oxford University will be presented in a documentary called ‘Head of John the Baptist’ airing on the National Geographic Channel in on June 17, 2012 at 8pm.