An Italian-led team of archaeologists has discovered vases containing perfumed ointment of the type used to anoint Jesus's feet in the Bible at a dig in the ancient Palestinian town of Magdala.
The archaeologists of the Franciscan academic society Studium Biblicum Franciscanum found the unopened vases dating to the first century AD conserved in mud at the bottom of a swimming pool in Magdala's thermal complex.
''The mud-filled condition of the site allowed us to find these truly extraordinary objects, which were intact and sealed and still contain greasy substances,'' Father Stefano De Luca, who heads the excavations, told the Terrasanta.net website.
''We think these are balms and perfumes and if chemical analysis confirms this, they could be similar to those used by Mary Magdalene in the Gospels to anoint the feet of Christ''.
Mary Magdalene, who is thought to have come from the town of Magdala, is generally believed to be the woman who washes and perfumes Jesus's feet as described in the Gospel of Luke.
The Bible does not explicitly name the foot-washer as Mary Magdalene, but biblical commentators including Pope Gregory I (590-604) have long linked the two women.
''Even if Mary Magdalene was not the woman who anointed the feet of Christ, the discovery of the unguentary vases at Magdala is extremely important,'' De Luca said.
''We have in our hands the cosmetic products from the time of Jesus. It's very likely that the woman who anointed Christ's feet used these products, or ones similar in organic composition and quality.''
The contents of the vases will be analysed by an unnamed Italian university, and the archaeology team said it might be possible to reproduce the balms and ointments in the laboratory.