SCIENTISTS think they can finally prove an ancient bone belonged to the fourth-century saint who inspired Father Christmas.
Oxford University researchers carbon-dated the relic – said to belong to St Nicholas – and found it dates to the right period.
While the boffins cannot conclusively prove the bone is from the venerated Turkish saint, they have managed to pinpoint its age to the fourth century AD.
St Nicholas is said to have died around the year 343.
Professor Tom Higham, director of the Oxford Relics Cluster at Keble College’s Advanced Studies Centre said: "Many relics that we study turn out to date to a period somewhat later than the historic attestation would suggest.
"This bone fragment, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains from St Nicholas himself."
The bone that was analysed is owned by Father Dennis O'Neill of the St Martha of Bethany Church in Illinois.
St Nicholas is believed to have been a generous, wealthy man famed for giving gifts, a trait believed to have inspired the story of Father Christmas.
Dr Georges Kazan, another director of the Oxford Relics Cluster, added: "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.
"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."
Earlier this year a special section containing a grave site was discovered beneath the St Nicholas Church, located in Antalya's Demre district in Turkey, known as the birth place of Santa Claus.
The head of the local Monument Authority says that they have come across an untouched shrine while digitally surveying under the church.
Cemil Karabayram said: "We believe this shrine has not been damaged at all, but it is quite difficult to get to it as there are mosaics on the floor."
He added that they had examined all the files from 1942 to 1966 regarding the remains of St Nicholas and discovered the church was burnt down and then rebuilt.
Karabayram was very optimistic about reaching Santa's remains, saying that they may be able to reach the untouched grave.
He added that the excavation leader Professor Sema Doğan was shocked to hear about the finding.
Who was St Nicholas?
From what we can gather from historical texts, he was born in Patara in Asia Minor, now Turkey, on March 15 270.
He spent his early adulthood travelling round Egypt and Palestine before returning to become the Bishop of Myra.
St Nicholas was later tossed in jail but freed after the Emperor Constantine made the Roman Empire Christian.
During his life he is said to have performed several miracles including resurrecting murdered children.
His most famous act was leaving purses of money for the daughters for a poor man in the dead of night to save them from prostitution.
It is from this tale that the modern myth of Santa Claus is believed to have grown.
It is also hoped that tourism around the region will be positively affected if they are able to successfully reach Father Christmas' remains.
Previously, the remains of St Nick were believed to have been smuggled to the Italian city of Bari by Italian merchants in the year 1087.
The Santa Claus Museum, formerly an ancient church with a sarcophagus attributed to the Christmas saint is also located in the town of Demre.
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