Tim Holden: Objects can last many centuries as long as conditions are right

WHILE it would not be possible to say whether this thorn was from the crown worn by Jesus, and I would be a bit sceptical about that, it could be one that has survived thousands of years.

You do get preservation of things that old, and in a good state, if they have been kept in the right conditions. Water lily petals were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, who was born around 1341 BC, when it was discovered in 1922.

The key point is that such an item as the thorn would have been well desiccated and kept in very dry conditions. The atmosphere would have had to be very dry, and the casket it was kept in would have had to be secure. It would only have to get wet once for it to be destroyed.

Thorns are very woody, and can be as strong as piece of wood, meaning that sometimes these things really do survive.

The only way to accurately date it scientifically would be to cut a bit off, which would be highly destructive. We should also remember that there was a craze for medieval relics and a good number were sold by charlatans.

Such thorns would not be preserved in this country because the climate is too damp.

• Tim Holden is environmental archaeologist and MD of Headland Archaeology UK.

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