John the Baptist roamed far and wide, but did he end up in what is today’s Bulgaria? His bones may have, anyway, but they may have been taken there after his death in a relic.
The handful of bones was found in 2010 by Romanian archaeologists Kazimir Popkonstantinov and Rossina Kostova while they were excavating an old church site on the island of Sveti Ivan, which translates "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, which was holding the bones. It was found near a second box bearing the name of St. John and his feast date of June 24. New radiocarbon dating of the collagen in one of the bones reveals that it’s from the early first century, which is consistent with the New Testament and Jewish histories of John the Baptist’s life.
The bones in the box included a knucklebone, a tooth, part of a cranium, a rib and an ulna, or arm bone. Only the knucklebone could be dated, because it was the only one that had enough organic material (collagen) for radiocarbon dating.
In LiveScience.com, Stephanie Pappas quotes researcher Thomas Higham as saying, "We got some dates that are very interesting indeed. They suggest that the human bone is all from the same person, it’s from a male, and it has a very high likelihood of an origin in the Near East," which is where the Baptist would have lived.
So how did they end up in a formerly Communist country? Scholars speculate that The a man named Thomas may have brought the relic containing body parts of St. John to the island to consecrate a new church being built there, which was common practice in the fourth and fifth centuries.
Pappas quotes Higham as saying, "We can imagine that the construction of this church was predicated on the basis of this very important gift, perhaps from the patron to the monastery."
However, there were lots of fake relics in those days, so they will never be able to know for sure that these are the Baptist’s bones. Higham says, "Definitely proving it, I think, is going to remain ever-elusive."
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