Bones Cast 'Rare Flicker of Light' on Early Christianity

But they do not belong to St. James the Younger as long thought
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 16, 2021 3:43 PM CST
Bones of One of the 12 Apostles Aren't That After All
James the Younger was depicted in the surprised group of three on the left.   (Getty Images)

It appears Rome's Santi Apostoli church doesn't have the bones of two of Jesus' 12 apostles after all—but perhaps it does have one. LiveScience reports the church has since the 6th century believed it possessed remains belonging to St. James the Younger and St. Philip. A study published last month in the journal Heritage Science notes that the "relics of the two apostles were contained in a quadrangular ... high stone box." Kaare Lund Rasmussen, a professor of chemistry and archaeometry at the University of Southern Denmark, led a study into those bones and found the femur fragments attributed to St. James were dated to a range of AD 214 and 340—some 160 to 240 years after he lived, per a press release.

The scientists arrived at that range using radiocarbon dating, though getting to that point was a more involved process due to the decontamination the fragments required, as the bone had apparently been treated at some point in the past with substance containing mercury, perhaps as part of a conservation effort. Scientists also extracted collagen and an amino acid and dated them; the periods all synced. The bones thought to belong to St. Philip—a mummified foot and pieces of the tibia—were not decontaminated or otherwise analyzed due to concerns about their condition. Of the bones thought to belong to James, Rasmussen says "they must have taken it from a Christian grave, so it belonged to one of the early Christians, apostle or not ... [and cast] a rare flicker of light on a very early and largely unaccounted for time in the history of early Christianity." (Read more discoveries stories.)

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