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Religious relics are to become the subject of a new research initiative launching today at Keble College's Advanced Studies Centre (ASC).

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Ancient Christian relics are objects that survive from ancient times, often associated with a saint's body or their belongings, and usually kept as objects of historical interest or spiritual devotion. For the first time, a large team of researchers will use radiocarbon dating, genetics and theology to learn more about the origin and movement around the world of religious relics that have been attributed to specific individuals.

The researchers will use the latest scientific methods, such as higher precision radiocarbon dating that can pinpoint chronologies; DNA analysis that establishes common ancestries and the probable geographic origin of an individual; and historical and material evidence to identify objects of special interest and set scientific data in their proper context.

Oxford has a longstanding reputation in the study of the remains of relics. Researchers have used the Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit to date the Shroud of Turin, regarded by some as the burial cloth of Christ. The concentration of radiocarbon in all living things is relatively constant over time and traces of the C14 isotope contained inorganic substances, including the cloth, can be measured by the Unit to provide its age. Three university labs were involved and between them concluded that the cloth was manufactured between 1260 and 1390.

Read more on the University website (opens new window)