Bone fragment could belong to 'the real' Father Christmas

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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.

Many fragments of his skeleton are held at the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Southern Puglia, where they have been since 1087.

As many as 500 of St Nicholas's bone fragments are believed to be held in Venice. "We can do this using ancient palaeogenomics, or DNA testing".

Researchers at the University of Oxford conducted a radiocarbon dating study on the bone, which was long venerated as having belonged to St Nicholas, a Christian saint who died around 343 AD. The lack of a full pelvis bone in the Bari collection inspired the Oxford team to try to analyze the authenticity of this relic.

"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.

St. Nicholas was a bishop in the ancient Greek town of Myra, what is now modern-day Turkey. Some believe he was persecuted by Emperor Diocletian.

His remains are said to have been taken away by a group of Italian merchants and transported to Bari, where the bulk of them sit to this day in the Basilica di San Nicola.

Over the years, various fragments have been obtained by churches across the world and the bone tested by Oxford belongs to Father Dennis O'Neill, of St Martha of Bethany Church, in Illinois, United States.

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Even more interestingly, this collection of bones in Italy does not include a pelvis.

Dr Georges Kazan, another director at the Oxford Relics Cluster, said the results would encourage them to test other relics from Bari and Venice, to show if they are the same person. "It is exciting to think that these relics, which date from such an ancient time, could in fact be genuine".

Work has revealed that the bone has been venerated for nearly 1700 years, making it one of the oldest relics that the Oxford team has ever analysed.

In the 16th century stories about St Nicholas become popular, and the legend of Father Christmas was born.

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! A wealthy man there earned a reputation for great generosity and surprise gift-giving.

Higham clarified that scientific testing can not definitively prove that the fragment does belong to St. Nicholas.

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