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Archaeologists discover ivory box depicting Moses receiving the Ten Commandments

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Archaeologists just made a groundbreaking discovery of a significant religious relic adorned with Christian motifs inside a marble shrine of an early church in Austria. The 1,500-year-old ivory box features intricate scenes, including Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, along with depictions of saints and the ascension of Christ.

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

Highlights

By Catholic Online (California Network)
7/1/2024 (3 weeks ago)

Published in Europe

Keywords: Christian relic, archaeology, ivory box, early Christianity, religious artifacts, Austria excavation

The circular box, considered a rare find, underscores the scarcity of early Christian sacred objects, given that the faith is approximately 2,000 years old. Researchers have identified only 40 such discoveries globally, with the last one unearthed about a century ago.

Gerald Grabherr, the lead archaeologist, remarked, "We know that this only happens once in an archaeologist's life as a scientist." The relic, believed to have been crafted less than a century after Emperor Constantine the Great legalized Christianity in 313 AD through the Edict of Milan, adds significant historical value.

The discovery was made by researchers from the University of Innsbruck, who were excavating an early Christian church atop the Burgbichl in Irschen, southern Austria. This region, once part of the Roman Empire, likely had a pagan sanctuary before the church was established.

The team uncovered a sealing stone in a pit-like depression where an altar once stood. Beneath it, they found a white marble box containing the fragmented ivory artifact, originally a complete circle held together with metal and wood.

Experts speculate that the characters on the box, all men with beards and long robes, represent scenes from the Old and New Testaments. While the exact interpretation remains uncertain, Moses and Christ are thought to be key figures. Possible depictions include Moses receiving the laws from God or parting the Red Sea and Jesus' resurrection.

Dr. Barbara Kainrath, involved in the research, noted, "A second scene that we can address well is the figure being pulled up again by a hand that sticks out of the cloud, which is the hand of God again." This scene might depict either Jesus' ascension or the ascension of Elijah, as described in the Bible.

The church, about 60 feet long with a marble threshold at its entrance, also featured burials to the south and west. The team uncovered remains believed to belong to the social upper class of the time, including three adults, a teenager, and four children, now housed at the Natural History Museum in Vienna.

The relic's origin, possibly from a major urban center like Alexandria, Ravenna, or Aquileia, suggests it was not locally made due to the lack of necessary materials in the region. The box's fragmented state indicates it may have been broken before being placed in the marble shrine, hinting at possible tampering or an attempt to remove it.

This remarkable discovery sheds light on the early Christian era's religious artistry and offers invaluable insights into the historical context of the region.

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