Archaeologists Unearth 1,500-Year-Old Ivory Box with Christian Motifs in Southern Austria

Featured & Cover Archaeologists Unearth 1 500 Year Old Ivory Box with Christian Motifs in Southern Austria

A team of archaeologists from the University of Innsbruck made a remarkable find while excavating a church site in southern Austria. They uncovered a marble shrine containing a 1,500-year-old ivory box decorated with Christian motifs. This relic, believed to be linked to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, is considered highly significant due to the rarity of early Christian sacred objects.

“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,” explains the finder, archaeologist Gerald Grabherr.

“The pyx was presumably also seen as sacred and was treated as such because it was in contact with a relic. The archaeological and art-historical significance of the pyx cannot be denied,” emphasises Gerald Grabherr.

The intricately carved box was discovered under an altar inside a chapel located at the summit of Burgbichl, a small hill in the municipality of Irschen. The University of Innsbruck has been conducting excavations in this area, part of the Carinthian Drava Valley, since 2016.

“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,” says Gerald Grabherr.

Towards the end of the Roman Empire, times became more uncertain, especially in the peripheral provinces of the empire, including the area that is now Austria. For this reason, from around the 4th century, the inhabitants increasingly founded settlements on hilltops that were easier to defend and left the valley floor.

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