Could First Century Bones Have Belonged To John The Baptist?
June 16, 2012

Could First Century Bones Have Belonged To John The Baptist?

Researchers from Oxford University claim that they have discovered new evidence supporting the notion that a knuckle bone and other human remains discovered under a Bulgarian church could belong to the Biblical figure John the Baptist.

According to AFP reports published Friday, the remains, which were discovered two years ago in a small marble sarcophagus buried beneath a church floor on the island of Sveti Ivan, were dated by a university research team. They found that the knuckle bone originated from the first century AD, which is said to be around the same time when John was beheaded by King Herod.

Furthermore, "scientists from the University of Copenhagen analyzed the DNA of the bones, finding they came from a single individual, probably a man, from a family in the modern-day Middle East, where John would have lived“¦ While these findings do not definitively prove anything, they also don't refute the theory first proffered by the Bulgarian archaeologists who found the remains while excavating under an ancient church on the island," they added.

The remains were originally discovered by Bulgarian archaeologists in 2010, along with a box that contained volcanic ash and bore inscriptions referring to John the Baptist and the date on which Christians commemorate his birth, the Telegraph explained. While there was skepticism surrounding the finding at first, the Oxford researchers used carbon dating on the remains, and announced earlier this week that they had discovered "scientific evidence" to support the theory that they did belong to the biblical figure.

Those findings will be revealed during a documentary, airing Sunday on the National Geographic Channel.

"We were surprised when the radiocarbon dating produced this very early age," Oxford professor Thomas Higham said in a statement. "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."

"We didn't expect results that would be consistent with the expected -- or hoped for -- results of our Bulgarian colleagues," he added in a telephone interview with Raphael Satter of the Associated Press (AP). He also said that the team was "very confident" about their findings, and said that although they have not yet been peer-reviewed, that they would be able to withstand scrutiny.

A total of six human bones were discovered at the site, along with three animal bones. Higham and fellow Oxford professor Christopher Ramsey attempted to radiocarbon date four of the human bones, but they were only successful with one of the specimens, as the others lacked enough collagen to be successfully dated.

Afterwards, experts from the University of Copenhagen were able to reconstruct the complete mitochondrial DNA genome sequence from three of the human bones, establishing all of them belonged to the same subject and identifying a group of genes commonly found in what is now the Middle East, near the region where John the Baptist would have originated from.

"Our worry was that the remains might have been contaminated with modern DNA," said Dr. Hannes Schroeder, one of the Copenhagen researchers involved in the genome sequencing process. "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," he added. "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."