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Archaeologists digging in the ancient Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus.

A team of Spanish archaeologists has unearthed what one expert says could be one of the most ancient images of Jesus, painted on the walls of an underground structure in an Egyptian tomb.

The Egyptologists from Catalonia made the discovery in the ancient Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus, with the tombs said to date from the 6th and 7th centuries.

The leader of the search team, Josep Padró, a 20-year veteran of excavations in the region, told the Spanish-language newspaper La Vanguardia the find was “exceptional.”

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According to the Local, the discovery by a joint team from the Catalan Egyptology Society and the University of Barcelona has caused such a buzz that even Egypt’s minister of antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim, is now personally involved.

A Coptic painting with a protective layer shows a young man in an attitude of blessing. (courtesy: Mission Oxyrhynchus)

He broke the news himself in a press release which described the contents of the tombs, which are thought to have belonged to a well-known writer and a family of priests.

Padró called the underground stone structure “incredibly good, but we don’t know what it is.”

More than 45 tons of rock were moved to get to the subterranean treasures, and once inside, the archaeologists found “five or six coats of paint on the walls, the last of which was from the Coptic period of the first Christians.”

Padró said among the inscriptions was something unique, the “figure of a young man, with curly hair, dressed in a short tunic and with his hand raised as if giving a blessing.”

“We could be dealing with a very early image of Jesus Christ,” he added.

The image is now under protection while experts begin to translate the surrounding inscriptions.

Meanwhile, the digging in the area is ongoing as there has not been time to excavate another unidentified structure connected to the tombs via a set of worn steps.

“We don’t know what we’ll find there,” said the Egyptologist.

According to the Local, previous excavations in Oxyrhynchus have unearthed temples dedicated to Osiris, the Egyptian god of the afterlife.

See video of recent digging at Oxyrhynchus:

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