A nasty-looking molar, some chips of cranium and knuckle. Not the obvious stuff on which to build a tourism industry. But in Sozopol on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, these are “a miracle” transforming the economy.
That’s because the bones supposedly belong to St John the Baptist. Scholars were sceptical when they were found in 2010 on the nearby island of St John – a popular joke among archaeologists is that St John would have needed 12 heads and six hands to account for all the global discoveries of his body parts. But experts from Oxford and Copenhagen universities last year dated them to the first century AD and said the DNA belonged to a Middle Eastern man, giving the claims more credence than most. Pilgrims by the coachload are now showing up even in the off-season to kneel before the bones. Sozopol’s cobbled streets and sunny beaches were already a draw, and for those unswayed by bits of saintly skull, far more history is now emerging. Archaeologists this year unveiled the remains of Roman baths and a temple to Poseidon.
“It’s one of the few places you can see the evolution of worship from Greek to Roman to Christian in one place,” said Dimitar Nedev of Sozopol’s Archaeology Museum.