They believe they may have unearthed the remains of St. Nicholas - from whom the legend of Santa Claus emerged - beneath a church at his birthplace in southern Turkey.
St. Nicholas was born and served as a bishop of what is now the Turkish Mediterranean town of Demre, near Antalya, in the 4th century. He was buried there, but his bones were long believed to have been taken to the southern Italian town of Bari.
Cemil Karabayram, the head of Antalya’s monuments authority, indicated on Thursday that archaeologists now think that his remains may be lying in a temple below the church.
Karabayram said archaeologists were looking for a way of reaching the remains without harming the church.
At the time of his death in 343 AD, St Nicolas was interred in Demre, then known as Myra, where he is believed to have lain until the 11th century.
It was previously believed his remains were then exhumed by merchants and reburied in Bari. Christians still visit the site thought to be his final resting place at the Basilica di San Nicola.
Archaeologists now believe that the bones of a local priest were taken to Italy by mistake rather than those of the saint.
St Nicolas of Myra was known for gift giving to children, secretly secreating coins in shoes.
It was only in the 16th century that St Nicholas was popularised as the legendary Father Christmas.