Israeli researchers say an inscription on an ancient ring discovered near Jerusalem may include the name of Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who Biblical accounts say sentenced Jesus to death.
It would be a rare example still in existence of an inscription with the name of the man believed to have sent Jesus to his crucifixion.
The researchers recently announced their analysis of the inscription on the ring -- which was actually found some 50 years ago -- in Israel Exploration Journal.
The journal is published by the Israel Exploration Society and the Institute of Archaeology at Jerusalem's Hebrew University.
They say the copper-alloy ring, dated to around 2,000 years ago and used to apply a seal, was found at Herodium, an ancient palace built by King Herod near Jerusalem and Bethlehem, today located in the occupied West Bank.
The palace later became a fortress for Jewish rebels fighting the Romans.
An inscription in Greek letters reads "of Pilatus", while the ring also depicts a wine vessel known as a krater.
The researchers say it is unlikely that the ring belonged to Pilate himself, though possibly to a member of his administration or someone else entirely.
"Since the inscription on the ring reads 'of Pilatus', the first association that comes to mind is Pontius Pilatus, the prefect of the Roman province of Judaea 26-36 CE, under Emperor Tiberius Caesar," they write.
It adds however: "Since the name Pilatus is rare, it is not inconceivable that this ring belonged to Pontius Pilatus himself. However, we think it implausible that a prefect would have used a simple, all-metal, copper-alloy personal sealing ring with a motif that was already a well-known Jewish motif in Judaea before and during his rule."
The Israel Museum says the only other object from Pilate's time bearing his name is a stone with an inscription found in Caesarea, today located in Israel along the Mediterranean coast.
The stone is part of the museum's collection.
The authors of the journal article on the ring are Malka Hershkovitz, Gideon Forster, Yakov Kalman, Rachel Chachy and Roi Porat of Hebrew University as well as Shua Amorai-Stark of Kaye College of Education in the Israeli city of Beersheba.