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Saints Don't Have DNA Profiles

Date: 24.08.2010

The relics, recently unearthed off Sozopol on Bulgaria's southern coast and purported to be John the Baptist, had been acquired by the island's early monastic settlers in the genuine belief they were holy, a British expert said.

“The beliefs of the settlers are clearly important, but cannot stand as proof that would satisfy modern scientific enquiry,” Antony Eastmond, a Byzantine expert at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, said in an exclusive interview for

The remains, including a skull fragment and a tooth, were uncovered last month during the excavation of a fourth-century monastery on St. Ivan Island, off Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. They were in a sealed reliquary buried next to a tiny urn inscribed with St. John's name and his birth date.

According to excavation leader Professor Kazimir Popkonstantinov the Greek inscription on the tiny sandstone box is a very strong proof that the relics of John the Baptist are genuine, the key clue to their origin.

But the discovery on Sveti Ivan has been greeted with scepticism by some within Bulgaria's archaeological community, who say scientific tests should be carried out to justify the claim.

“Clearly scientific techniques can date the age of relics, but can never confirm whether they belong to a particular saint,” commented Antony Eastmond.

Asked whether the Orthodox Church has been a little cavalier about the historicity of certain relics, the expert said:

“The requirement to document and validate relics is relatively modern, so there have been many centuries in which relics were acquired without any corroborative evidence.”

But he pointed out it was very likely that relics would have been placed under the altar on Sveti Ivan, since it was standard practice, usually required, in order to ensure the sanctity of a newly consecrated church.

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