The festive season has finally arrived, so stock up on eggnog, wrap up your presents, and let’s play around with the bones of Santa Claus!
Archaeologists at the University of Oxford have recently been studying a fragment of bone which, according to legend, belonged to Saint Nicholas, the saint who inspired the image of Santa Claus.
Due to his associations with Christmas, numerous churches around the world claim to have bones belonging to Saint Nicholas, bringing into doubt whether these bones are all from the same person. This particular bone fragment was obtained in Lyon, France, by Father Dennis O’Neill, yet most of the remains of Saint Nicholas are widely considered to lie in the Basilica di San Nicola in southern Italy, with another batch at a church in Venice.
This new project is the first of its kind to verify the bone fragment’s authenticity. Radiocarbon dating of the bone found it dates to around 4th century CE. Since Saint Nicholas died in 343 CE, the researchers have strong reason to believe that the relic is authentic. Yep, Santa is real, after all.
“Many relics that we study turn out to date to a period somewhat later than the historic attestation would suggest,” Professor Tom Higham, Director of the Oxford Relics Cluster at Keble College’s Advanced Studies Centre, said in a statement. “This bone fragment, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains from St Nicholas himself.”
Even more interestingly, this collection of bones in Italy does not include a pelvis. However, analysis of the Father O’Neill bone fragment showed that it was part of the left pubis, acting as further evidence that both bones could be from the same person – perhaps the one and only Santa Claus.
Saint Nicholas, or should we say, Santa Claus, was a 4th century CE saint who lived in Myra, present-day Turkey. The story goes that Saint Nick was a wealthy white-haired do-gooder who was extremely generous to the community (you can see where the legend came from). Like many Christian saints, Saint Nicholas was also persecuted, in this case by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. After he died in modern-day Turkey, his bones were sold off by a group of Italian merchants, with most of them ending up in Italy’s Basilica di San Nicola.
Dr Georges Kazan, one of the lead archaeologists on the project, added: “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.”