|17 Oct 2001 @ 13:18, by sindy|
By Dick Ahlstrom, Science Editor
DNA fingerprinting has been used to prove that St Luke really is who he claims to be. Analysis of bones allegedly belonging to the evangelist writer of the Gospels now held in Padua has proven both the age and genetic background of the relics.
Scientists from Italy, Switzerland and the US used DNA fingerprinting and radio carbon dating on teeth taken from the marble sarcophagus containing the body traditionally attributed to Luke. The dating came close to Luke's reported time of death at 84 in the year 150 AD but more significantly the DNA study suggested the body was that of a Syrian, Luke's supposed homeland.
Historical sources indicate that Luke, one of the four writers of the Gospels, was born in Antioch in the Roman province of Syria around 65 AD. He died in Thebes where he was initially buried, but his body was reportedly transferred to Constantinople during the reign of emperor Constantius around 338 AD.
But the man did not rest in peace, he was next taken to Padua some time before 1177. There he has remained, although not without further disturbance. The church decided to have a peek in 1463 and 1562, and more recently on September 17th, 1998 when scientists from the Universities of Ferrara, Florence, Geneva, Rome, Calabria and Padua cracked open his lead-lined coffin once again.
They took the teeth to establish if the sarcophagus contained the body of a Syrian, as opposed to an interloper body put there during Luke's time in Greece or Turkey. The results are detailed this morning in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Inspection of the male skeleton showed signs of osteoporosis suggesting an individual who had died at the age 70 or more. Later independent dating carried out by the University of Arizona in Tucson and Oxford University estimated the samples were from someone who had died between 72 AD and 416 AD, bracketing Luke's supposed year of death nicely.
Genetic fingerprinting using mitochondrial DNA, the only kind suited to ancient sample analysis, showed the body was most likely Syrian. It was definitely not the body of a Greek but there was a chance it could have been the body of a Turk from Anatolia.
Their claims were based on an analysis of DNA taken from Turks, Greeks and Syrians living today. The authors looked for particular genetic markers comparing modern and ancient DNA and the samples from Luke came closest to a Syrian.
They could not rule out a body swap during the coffin's time in Constantinople given the margin of error. However, a Syrian origin "is the most likely".