A fragment of bone declared to be Saint Nicholas – the fourth century holy inspiration for Santa Claus – has been tested by carbon radio by the University of Oxford.
The proof has found that the relic dates back to the time of St. Nicholas, who is believed to have died around 343 AD.
Although it does not provide evidence that this is from the saint, it has been confirmed as authentically of that time.
The Oxford team says that these are the first tests performed on the bones.
The relics of St. Nicholas, who died in present-day Turkey, have been kept in the crypt of a church in Bari, Italy, since the eleventh century.
But the popularity of the saint and the associations with Christmas, have seen many fragments of bones being taken to other places, raising questions about how many of these are authentic.
The tests in Oxford have been carried out on a pelvis fragment, which had been in a church in France and is currently owned by a priest, Father Dennis O'Neill, of Illinois in the United States.
Carbon radio dating tests, for the Oxford Relics Cluster at the Center for Advanced Studies at Keble College, have confirmed that bone is from the correct time for St. Nicholas.
Professor Tom Higham, director of the center, says this is different from many of those relics that often turn out to be inventions much later.
"This fragment of bone, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains of St. Nicholas himself," says the Oxford archaeologist.
There are hundreds of other bones that are said to come from St. Nicholas, including a collection in a church in Venice.
And researchers now want to use DNA tests to see how many bones are actually from a single individual, and how many could be linked to bone tested in Oxford.
The Oxford team is interested in whether the part of the pelvis they have tested matches the relics in Bari, where the collection does not include a full pelvis.
Dr. Georges Kazan, co-director of the center at Keble College, says: "It's exciting to think that these relics, dating back to such an ancient time, could in fact be genuine."
For researchers, this may seem like Christmas has arrived early. But the findings can not provide evidence that this is definitely true of St. Nicholas.
"Science can not definitively prove that it is, but it can only prove that it is not," says Professor Higham.