Archaeologists discover ancient relic believed to be tied to Moses and the Ten Commandments

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Archaeologists conducting excavations at the site of a church have unearthed a marble shrine containing a relic that they believe may be tied to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments.

The shrine contained a 1,500-year-old ivory box adorned with Christian motifs, according to an Innsbruck University press release.

The item was discovered by archaeologists from Innsbruck University in southern Austria under an altar inside a chapel at the summit of Burgbichl, a small hill, in the municipality of Irschen.  

Since 2016, archaeologists from the University of Innsbruck have been carrying out excavations in Irschen, which is a part of the Carinthian Drava Valley.

“We know of around 40 ivory boxes of this kind worldwide and, as far as I know, the last time one of these was found during excavations was around 100 years ago – the few pyxes that exist are either preserved in cathedral treasures or exhibited in museums,” Gerald Grabherr, the lead archaeologist, said in the release.

Archaeologists have discovered an ancient relic believed to be tied to Moses and the Ten Commandments. An Ivory box containing a ‘depiction of scenes from the Old Testament’ was found amid excavations. University of Innsbruck
Innsbrook University archaeologists found the marble shrine in Austria, with fragments of the ivory pyx stacked inside. University of Innsbruck

One motif shows a man turning his head with a hand rising out of the sky above him, placing something between the person’s arms, followed by depictions of biblical figures.

“This is the typical depiction of the handing over of the laws to Moses on Mount Sinai, the beginning of the covenant between God and man from the Old Testament,” said Grabherr.

The last motif depicts a man in a chariot with two horses harnessed to it. The motif also features the same hand coming out of the clouds, pulling this figure up into heaven.

Since 2016, archaeologists from the University of Innsbruck have been carrying out excavations in Irschen, which is a part of the Carinthian Drava Valley. University of Innsbruck

“We assume that this is a depiction of the ascension of Christ, the fulfillment of the covenant with God. The depiction of scenes from the Old Testament and their connection with scenes from the New Testament is typical of late antiquity and thus fits in with our pyx; however, the depiction of the Ascension of Christ with a so-called biga, a two-horse chariot, is very special and previously unknown,” Grabherr said, according to the press release.

The researchers discovered two Christian churches, a cistern and the personal belongings of the settlement’s former inhabitants.

Researchers are conducting further investigations into the origins of the findings. University of Innsbruck

Towards the end of the Roman Empire, when times were more uncertain, settlers resided on hilltops that were easier to defend, abandoning the valley, Grabherr said in the release.

Researchers are conducting further investigations into the origin of the ivory, the metallic components and the wooden parts that were also found in the marble box.

“The archaeological and art-historical significance of the pyx cannot be denied,” said Grabherr.



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