Scientists attempted to identify the remains of the Apostle Paul by radiocarbon dating

Anita Durairaj
Image of painting of St. Paul by artist Lippo MemmiCredit: Metropolitan Museum of Art: Public Domain Image

According to Church historians, the Apostle Paul died as a martyr when he was beheaded in the first century A.D in Rome.

The Liber Pontificalis (pontifical book or Book of the Popes) stated that Paul's body was buried outside the walls of Rome. In the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine the Great built a church over the site containing Paul's body. In the present day, the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls is built over the burial place.

Paul's remains were purported to be buried underneath the basilica but for years the tomb could not be seen or touched by the pilgrims who visited the site. Church historical records deemed it was Paul's burial place and there was even an inscription found on a slab of stone with the words " To Paul, apostle, and martyr."

It was not until 2002 that the Vatican approved the excavation of the tomb of the Apostle Paul. In 2006, Vatican archaeologists unearthed a sarcophagus which was purported to contain Paul's remains. The sarcophagus dated as far back as A.D. 390.

On June 2009, Pope Benedict XVI announced that the uncovered tomb indeed contained the remains of Paul.

Scientists had extracted fragments of bone from the sarcophagus located under the basilica's main alter. They ran radiocarbon dating tests to determine that the bones dated to the first or second century. The tests indicated that the remains could potentially belong to Paul but it could not definitely verify his identity. There was no negative evidence to indicate that the body was not Paul's.

However, the carbon dating results were enough for the Vatican to conclude that the remains belonged to the Apostle Paul.

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Trained with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati, I write unique and interesting articles focused on science, history, and current events.


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