Wednesday 19 September 2018

'Santa's bone' proved to be correct age by Oxford University

The bone fragment Credit: T. Higham & G. Kazan/University
The bone fragment Credit: T. Higham & G. Kazan/University

Helena Horton

A bone thought to belong to St. Nicholas, the fourth-century saint on whom the legend of Father Christmas is based, has been dated by Oxford University and is the correct age.

Scientists used a radio carbon test to date the relic, and found it dates from the time of the Saint, who is believed to have died about 343AD.

While the results of the tests do not provide proof the bone is his, it does tie the relic to the same era.

According to the Oxford team, this is the first test done on the bones.

"Many relics that we study turn out to date to a period somewhat later than the historic attestation would suggest," said Professor Tom Higham, director of the Oxford Relics Cluster at Keble College's Advanced Studies Centre.

"This bone fragment, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains from St Nicholas himself."

He added that "science is not able to definitely prove that it is, it can only prove that it is not, however."

The bone, which is a pelvis fragment,  is owned by Father Dennis O'Neill, of St Martha of Bethany Church, in Illinois, United States.

Around 500 bone fragments thought to be those of the revered saint are believed to be held in Venice.

Researchers now want to use DNA testing to prove whether these bones are from the same body.

Most of his remains have been held in the Basilica di San Nicola, in Bari, Italy, since 1087, where they are buried in a crypt beneath a marble altar, but over the years relic fragments have been acquired by churches around the world.

Dr Georges Kazan, another director of the Oxford Relics Cluster, said: "These results encourage us to now turn to the Bari and Venice relics to attempt to show that the bone remains are from the same individual.

"We can do this using ancient palaeogenomics, or DNA testing.

"It is exciting to think that these relics, which date from such an ancient time, could in fact be genuine."

St Nicholas is thought to have lived in Myra, which is modern-day Turkey.

He is one of the most revered of the saints, and was famed for his generosity.

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