Written by Ashton Snyder on
 July 4, 2024

Archaeological Find in Austria Possibly Connected to Biblical Relics

Archaeologists from Innsbruck University have discovered a marble shrine and a 1,500-year-old ivory box with Christian motifs in Irschen, southern Austria.

Fox News reported that the imagery on the box appears to depict Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and the Ascension of Christ, offering important insights into historical and religious contexts.

Excavations at a church site in Irschen, located in the Carinthian Drava Valley, yielded a marble shrine housing the ancient ivory relic. The shrine was found beneath an altar within a chapel on the Burgbichl hill. Led by experts from Innsbruck University, the archaeological efforts in Irschen have been ongoing since 2016.

The ivory box is a remarkable find, belonging to a limited group of around 40 known artifacts worldwide. The last significant discovery of a similar item occurred approximately a century ago. The box features intricate Christian imagery and motifs believed to depict key biblical scenes.

Unveiling Motifs on the Ivory Box

Among the motifs on the box is an illustration showing a man receiving something from a hand extending from the sky, interpreted as Moses receiving the laws on Mount Sinai. Gerald Grabherr, a leading archaeologist, acknowledges this image as the “typical depiction” of the Old Testament event, symbolizing the start of the covenant between God and humankind.

Another notable scene displays a man in a chariot with two horses, believed to portray the ascension of Christ. This depiction is unique, as a hand from the heavens appears to be drawing the figure upward, symbolizing the fulfillment of the covenant from the New Testament. According to Grabherr, this representation is atypical and unprecedented.

Discoveries of Churches and Personal Belongings

The excavation efforts also revealed the remains of two Christian churches at the site, alongside a cistern and various personal belongings. These findings offer a glimpse into the life and practices of former inhabitants of the settlement.

The settlement itself had shifted to the hilltops during the late Roman Empire, a strategic move for enhanced defense in uncertain times. As Grabherr notes, the hilltop location provided settlers with a safer residence compared to the valleys below.

Further research is ongoing to trace the origins of the ivory material and the metallic and wooden components found within the marble box. These investigations may provide additional context to the relic's creation and usage.

Significance of the Ivory Relic

Grabherr emphasizes the immense archaeological and art-historical value of the ivory relic. He notes the rarity and uniqueness of the artifact, as well as the limited number of similar items known to exist. The depiction of the Ascension of Christ involving a two-horse chariot (biga) is an especially distinctive and previously unknown element.

Prior to the current discovery, such pyxes (small containers) were primarily found in the treasures of cathedrals or exhibited in museums. Their historical and religious importance cannot be understated, as they provide insights into the artistic and religious expressions of their time.

The find in Irschen contributes valuable knowledge to the understanding of religious art in late antiquity and the intertwining of Old and New Testament themes in early Christian traditions. The combination of these depictions on a single artifact underscores the profound theological and cultural connections of the era.

Ongoing Research and Future Plans

The ongoing work in Irschen continues to reveal significant historical and archaeological insights, with the university's team committed to preserving these discoveries for future generations. As excavations and studies progress, archaeologists and researchers anticipate further findings that will enhance our understanding of human civilization. The marble shrine uncovered in southern Austria, containing an ancient ivory box with unique Christian motifs, highlights the region's rich historical and religious heritage, promising to deepen our knowledge of the past.

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