Science

The bones of Father Christmas: Scientists believe they've found Santa Claus's pelvis

A fragment of bone attributed to a fourth-century saint, who inspired the legend of Santa Claus, could indeed belong to him, suggesting that researchers are closer to unearthing the authentic relics of the original Santa.

Saint Nicholas is also considered to be one of the most important saints of the Orthodox Church, and believers go on pilgrimages to the southern Italian town of Bari, where the saint's remains were buried in a crypt in its namesake Basilica in 1087. Radiocarbon dating of the bone found it dates to around 4th century CE. In some countries, such as Germany, children receive candies and small gifts not on December 25, but on Saint Nicholas' day, the anniversary of the saint's death, believed to have happened December 6, 343 A.D.in the town of Myra in modern day Turkey.

Legend has it that St Nicholas, who is depicted with a white beard in icons and was said to have died in 343 AD, was widely known for his generosity - a trait that inspired the story of Father Christmas.

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

The historic saint died in Myra around 343 AD, before his relics were carried away by a group of sailors to Bari in modern-day Italy.

Because of the popularity of the saint, many fragments of bones have been taken to other locations around the world.

The fragment owned by Father O'Neill originally came from Lyon, France. The bone is now owned by Father Dennis O'Neill, from IL in the US. The relics in Bari don't include the saint's full pelvis, but instead, only the left ilium (upper part of the bone).

The relics in the two churches have been found to be complementary, suggesting they may have come from the same person. This fact attracted Kazan's attention, prompting the study. "We can do this using ancient paleogenomics or DNA testing".

"'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", says Georges Kazan, another Oxford researcher on the project.

The team said that the bone has been venerated for nearly 1,700 years, making it one of the oldest relics they have ever analysed. December 6 is celebrated in many European countries, particularly in the Netherlands, as St. Nicholas Feast Day and involves giving of gifts to children by their parents.

Of the possible authenticity of the relic itself, Higham concludes, "Science is not able to definitely prove that it is, it can only prove that it is not, however".



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