JERUSALEM, Jan. 23 (JTA) — The discovery of a rare bronze-and-wood cross in excavations sparked international interest this week over the possibility that it could contain wood from the original cross of Jesus. But Israeli archaeologists, while citing the historical value of the artifact, cast doubt on those claims, saying that the cross was more likely a souvenir of a Byzantine-era pilgrim. “Even back then, there was an industry of souvenirs in the Byzantine era, to bring back holy oil, water and such items from the Holy Land,” Ronni Reich, the director of the excavation where the artifact was found, told reporters Wednesday. The cross was found near Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. Reich said the palm-sized cross was still rare, because it was the first to be uncovered with wooden pieces in it dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries. But he said it was unlikely that the wood was part of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Reich said archaeologists had found a number of small bronze crosses in excavations in the area, inside a building believed to have been an inn used by pilgrims. He said the excavations also uncovered a bathhouse and remains of shops.
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