Scientist claim that bones discovered in a small church in Bulgaria may those of John the Baptist, the biblical figure known for baptizing Jesus.
The bones were discovered on the remote Black Sea island of Sveti Ivan, or St. John, in 2010 by Romanian archaeologists Kazimir Popkonstantinov and Rossina Kostova. The two archeologists were excavating an old church constructed during the 5th and 6th centuries on the island when they discovered a box under the church floor containing six human bones.
Three animal bones were also discovered in the marble box along with inscriptions in ancient Greek that bore the name and purported date of birth of the saint.
"God save your servant Thomas. To St John. June 24," the inscription reads.
Researchers have speculated that the person named Thomas in the Greek inscription brought the relics to the island from Antioch, Turkey, where the hand of St. John was held until the 10th century.
Scientists were skeptical of the claims following the discovery, but carbon dating tests carried out at Oxford University found that at least one of the bones – a knucklebone – dated back to the 1st century AD, which is when John the Baptist is said to had lived prior to his beheading ordered by King Herod.
"We got some dates that are very interesting indeed," University of Oxford professor and study researcher Thomas Higham told LiveScience. "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."
Researchers were unable to carry out tests the other bones discovered in the box due to a lack of collagen and have admitted that they might not ever know if the bones do indeed belong to John the Baptist.
"Whether that person is John the Baptist is a question that we cannot yet definitely answer and probably never will," the scientist added.
National Geographic funded the research and will broadcast a segment regarding the possible discovery in the U.K. on June 17th.
John the Baptist foretold the coming of Christ and led the movement of baptism at the Jordon River. Many biblical scholars agree that John baptized Jesus at "Bethany beyond the Jordan."
Other sites around the world also claim to hold relics of the saint, including the Grand Mosque in Damascus, which claims it has the saint's head. A Serbian Orthodox monastery in Montenegro also claims to have the right hand with which the Jewish prophet baptized Jesus.