1165 København K
Tlf: 35 32 28 98 (mon-thurs)
Research team believes a handful of ancient bones buried beneath an old church in Bulgaria may be actual remains of John the Baptist, the biblical figure said to have baptised Jesus
In Denmark the birthday of John the Baptist is celebrated in front of bonfires every year on Saint Hans Eve. He is a central biblical figure and centuries after his death alleged remains of his skeleton are still being worshipped as sacred relics. Now researchers may have found leftovers of the real deal on the Bulgarian island of Sveti Ivan.
So claims an international research collaboration counting scientists from the University of Copenhagen (UCPH). The investigations began when archaeologists found a marble shrine with knuckle and skull bones during an excavation of the island’s ancient church back in 2010. This is according to the Danish newspaper Berlingske.
Professor Eske Willerslev from the department of Biology at UCPH and his colleagues from the Centre of Excellence in GeoGenetics have performed a genetic analysis of the bones. Together with researchers from Oxford University they have dated the bones back to the early first century AD, matching John the Baptist’s supposed time on earth. Researchers have also confirmed that the bones come from a man of Middle Eastern origin like John.
It is impossible for scientists to prove whether the bones belong to John the Baptist or not. According to Berlingske, this is because there is nothing to match the bone samples with, even with the new scientific evidence and the archaeological finds, including a shrine bearing the name of John the Baptist, and his feast date.
»The dating matches, so does the DNA analysis. It will not get much better than this. To accurately confirm it is John the Baptist, there must be a descendant from which we can collect samples to match. And there are none,« professor Willerslev tells Berlingske.
Bible expert and UCPH associate professor, Søren Holst, argues that John the Baptist could very well be a historical figure, since his name is referred to even in literary sources with no connections to the Bible, reports Berlingske.
Professor Willerslev tells Berlingske that many fraud relics were sold and produced during the Middle Ages. He and fellow researchers have been surprised to discover how old the bones actually are.
While researchers from Oxford University performed a radio carbon dating of the collagen in one of the bone’s pegs, researchers from UCPH reconstructed DNA sequences from three of the bones. The research team has proved the six bones to be from the same person with Middle Eastern origin and from the beginning of the first century AD.
The unearthing however, remains a story with no definitive information to prove neither the believers nor the sceptics wrong. If all the bones said to have belonged to John were authentic, he would at least have had three heads and four hands. The remnants of his bodily parts still please the credulous in Syria, Italy, Germany, Montenegro, Istanbul, Romania, and India just to mention a few.
Stay in the know about news and events happening in Copenhagen by signing up for the University Post’s weekly newsletter here.