The legend of Santa Claus is inspired by the story of St Nicholas, a Christian saint who died around 343 CE. A new radiocarbon dating study by Oxford University researchers on a bone attributed to St Nicholas has been dated to around the 4th century CE, bringing us closer to uncovering the authentic remains of the original Santa.

The legend of St Nicholas tells of a man known for secret gift giving. Over the centuries following his death, and subsequent canonization, the stories morphed into the myth of Santa Claus that we know today. Many of the relics and bones attributed to St Nicholas are thought to be held in a church in Bari, Italy, while some others are reportedly in Venice.

The team from Oxford University has started the hunt for Santa's bones by examining a small pelvis bone-fragment owned by Father Dennis O'Neill in Illinois, USA, who obtained the bone from Lyon in France. The lack of a full pelvis bone in the Bari collection inspired the Oxford team to try to analyze the authenticity of this relic.

The fact that the bone could indeed be dated to the period of St Nicholas is a major step forward in verifying that it may be an authentic relic.

"Many relics that we study turn out to date to a period somewhat later than the historic attestation would suggest," says Tom Higham, one of the Oxford researcher's working with the bones. "This bone fragment, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains from St Nicholas himself."

A previous study concluded that the bone fragments from the Bari and Venice collections are indeed complementary, and could have originated from the same individual, so the next step for the team is to begin examining samples from those two collections.

'These results encourage us to now turn to the Bari and Venice relics to attempt to show that the bone remains are from the same individual," says Georges Kazan, another Oxford researcher on the project. "We can do this using ancient palaeogenomics, or DNA testing. It is exciting to think that these relics, which date from such an ancient time, could in fact be genuine."

While the researchers readily admit they will never be able to definitively prove that these are the bones of St Nicholas, it would be significant if further study validated the DNA and age of the bones from these collections.

Are these the bones of the original Santa Claus? We may never truly know, but science will certainly get us as close to an answer as possible.

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