Monday, June 29, 2009

Some Papal Archaeology

I think I'm reacting to the title of the NYT news story Pope says tests 'seem to conclude' bones are the Apostle Paul's (tip from Laura Sizer). It is an odd way of announcing a scientific work. Yes, we are talking about Vatican archaeologists, but still the reporting should note if the results are being published in a peer-reviewed journal or not. Pope's confirmation does not hold any water in the scientific world nor does it add any value to results. Perhaps, this is already published - but then the NYT should have also cited that journal. Otherwise, its only an unreliable science story:
The first scientific tests on what are believed to be the remains of the Apostle Paul, the Roman Catholic saint, “seem to conclude” that they belong to him, Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday.

Archaeologists recently unearthed and opened the white marble sarcophagus located under the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, which for some 2,000 years has been believed by the faithful to be the tomb of Paul.

Benedict said scientists had conducted carbon dating tests on bone fragments found inside the sarcophagus and confirmed that they date from the first or second century.

“This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul,” Benedict said, announcing the findings at a service in the basilica to mark the end of the Vatican’s Pauline year, in honor of Paul.

Paul and Peter are the two main figures known for spreading the Christian faith after the death of Christ.

According to tradition, Paul, also known as the apostle to the Gentiles, was beheaded in Rome in the first century during the persecution of early Christians by Roman emperors. Popular belief holds that bone fragments from his head are in another Rome basilica, St. John Lateran, with his other remains inside the sarcophagus.
...
Vatican archaeologists in 2002 began excavating the eight-foot coffin, which dates from at least 390 and was buried under the basilica’s main altar. The decision to unearth it was made after pilgrims who came to Rome during the Roman Catholic Church’s 2000 Jubilee year expressed disappointment at finding that Paul’s tomb — buried under layers of plaster and further hidden by an iron grate — could not be visited or touched.

Read the full story here.

2 comments:

RBH said...

As far as I can tell, they got carbon dates that might be consistent with the reputed time of Paul's death. Saying that the results "seem to conclude" that it's therefore Paul's remains is a stretch almost as long as that required to believe in transubstantiation.

Salman Hameed said...

Well that is one of the reasons it would have been nice to know if these findings have gone through a peer-reviewed system. Otherwise, the only validity here is being provided by the Pope - and that really isn't the way to report a science-based claim.