A knuckle, which supposedly belonged to Juan Bautista, has been dated by Oxford researchers and the results place it in the 1st century AD., which would confirm the theory that the remains found under the floor of a church in Bulgaria they were those of the prophet and friend of Jesus Christ. The investigation has been carried out by a team from the “Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit”From the prestigious British university.
However, although scientists were surprised when they discovered the early age of the remains, they have qualified that dating alone cannot prove the bones are those of John the Baptist.
One of the team members, Professor Higham explains: “We were surprised when radiocarbon dating produced this result. We suspected that the bones could be more recent, perhaps from the 3rd or 4th centuries. However, the result of the metacarpal bone of the hand speaks of someone who lived in the 1st century. Now, if that person is John the Baptist, it is a question that we still cannot definitively answer and probably never will.”.
The bones were discovered in 2010 by archaeologist Kazimir Popkonstantinov, who was excavating under an ancient church on an island in Bulgaria called "Sveti Ivan” (San Juan). The knuckle was one of six human bones he found. Inside a small marble sarcophagus he found a tooth, the front of a skull and three animal bones. Oxford professors Thomas Higham and Christopher Ramsey tried radiocarbon dating human bones, but only one of them contained a sufficient amount of collagen to be dated successfully: the knuckle.
Bulgarian archaeologists also found a small box made of volcanic tuff near the sarcophagus. The small urn contains inscriptions in ancient Greek that directly mentions John the Baptist and the day of his feast, as well as a text in which God is asked to "help your servant Thomas”. The experts shuffle several theories. The person named Thomas is believed to have engaged in bringing the relics to the island.
An analysis of the box has revealed that comes from near Cappadocia, a region of the Modern turkey. Bulgarian researchers believe that the bones probably reached Bulgaria via Antioch, where the right hand of Saint John was saved until the 10th century.
Dr. Hannes Schroeder and Professor Eske Willerslev, both from the University of Copenhagen, reconstructed the complete mitochondrial genome sequence from DNA of three of the human bones to determine that the bones belonged to the same person. In addition, they identified a group of genes that is usually more common in people from the Middle East, area where Juan Bautista was originally from.
Shroeder comments: “Our concern was whether the remains had been contaminated with modern DNA. However, the DNA in the samples had patterns of damage that are characteristic of ancient genes, which helped us continue our research. Of course, this does not prove that it was the remains of John the Baptist, but it does not disprove that theory either, as the genetic sequences match a Near Eastern origin.”.
In a separate study from the above, another Oxford researcher, Dr. Georges Kazan, has analyzed historical documents showing that, in the latter part of the fourth century, the monks took the relics of Saint John the Baptist from Jerusalem and that between them were parts of the skull. These relics were summoned to Constantinople by the Roman emperor who built a church to house them there.
Additional research by Kazan suggests that the reliquary used to hold the remains may have resembled the sarcophagus urn that has been discovered at Sveti Ivan. In the words of the researcher himself: “My research indicates that, during the 6th or early 5th century, the Sveti Ivan monastery may also have received a significant portion of the relics of Saint John the Baptist, as well as a sarcophagus-shaped reliquary, from a member of the elite of Constantinople”.
Passionate about History, he has a degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication. Since he was a child he loved history and ended up exploring the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries above all.