Archaeologists find rare religious relic

Archaeologists find rare religious relic

Archaeologists have made a discovery inside a marble shrine of an early church in Austria: a significant religious relic adorned with Christian motifs.

According to Greek City Times, this 1,500-year-old ivory box illustrates Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai, as detailed in the Old Testament. The artifact also features imagery of saints and Christ's ascension.

Researchers from the University of Innsbruck uncovered the relic during excavations of a church on the Burgbichl in Irschen, southern Austria. They found the ivory box in a pit-like depression beneath a sealing stone, where an altar once stood.

The box, originally forming a pure circle with metal and wood components, was broken into pieces. Despite its fragmented state, it was deemed the holiest part of the church, prompting questions about why it was left behind.

Lead archaeologist Gerald Grabherr told the Mail Online: "We know that this only happens once in an archaeologist's life as a scientist."

Only 40 such discoveries have been made worldwide, with the last one occurring around a century ago.

The relic features bearded men in long robes, depicting scenes from both the Old and New Testaments.

While archaeologists speculate the box shows Moses receiving the laws from God or parting the Red Sea, the exact interpretation remains uncertain. Another possible scene is Jesus' resurrection, with one depiction showing a figure being pulled up by a hand from the clouds, possibly representing God's hand.

The team also considered that the depiction of horses and a chariot might relate to biblical passages. Revelations 19:11 mentions a white horse, while the Book of Exodus describes Egyptians on horses and chariots pursuing Moses and the Israelites. Additionally, the Second Book of Kings recounts Elijah's ascension to heaven in a chariot of fire.

The early Christian church, approximately 60 feet long, featured a marble threshold at its entrance. Surrounding the church to the south and west were burials, including remains of people believed to be from the social upper class. Human remains of three adults, a teenager, and four children were uncovered, which are now being examined at the Natural History Museum in Vienna. The burials did not occur simultaneously, suggesting a prolonged period of interment.

Researchers believe the ivory pyx was not crafted in Irschen due to the local lack of materials. Instead, they suggest it originated from a major urban centre, possibly Alexandria, Ravenna, or nearby Aquileia.

Dr. Ulrike Tochterle speculated that the pyx might have been broken before being placed in the marble box. "Either the pyx was already in a destroyed, broken state in the marble cube or someone was tampering with it," she said.