Identification of Christopher Columbus' Remains

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Identification of Christopher Columbus' Remains

DNA analysis could be used to solve an identification puzzle going back more than 500 years. The remains of Christopher Columbus are said to lie in Seville Cathedral, in Spain. However, bones buried in Santo Domingo Cathedral in the Dominican Republicare also said to belong to the famous explorer. In 2005, Spanish researchers are hoping to extract enough DNA from both sets of bones to allow an identification to be made.

Columbus died in 1506 in Valladolid, Spain, and was buried in a monastery there. His remains were later moved to Seville. However, he had always expressed a wish to be buried in the Americas. In 1537, the widow of his son Diego was allowed to take the bones of both her husband and his father to the Dominican Republic for burial in the cathedral of Santo Domingo. There they remained until 1795, when Spain lost control of the country. The bones believed to belong to Columbus were dug up and moved so they would not fall into the hands of foreigners. The remains finally arrived in Seville, via Cuba, in 1898.

These are the bones buried in Seville Cathedral next to those of Hernando Colon, Columbus' son. However, in 1877, workers digging in Santo Domingo Cathedral uncovered a box containing 13 large bone fragments and 28 smaller ones and inscribed with Columbus' name. It looked as if the Spanish had dug up the wrong bones in 1795.

Extraction of DNA from the bones in Santo Domingo and Seville and comparison with Hernando Colon's DNA could identify which set of remains is the genuine one. Preliminary DNA testing in 2004 used mitrochondrial DNA, which is passed down from the mother, rather than nuclear DNA, which was unavailable in the samples, and showed that the remains attributed to Columbus in Spain contain DNA that is similar to that of his brother Diego, who was also buried near Seville. Spanish researchers also traveled to Santo Domingo to carry out a preliminary assessment. They will study the condition of the remains and hope to take a sample of DNA for analysis. DNA can remain intact for hundreds of years, so there is a good chance that the analysis and identification can be confirmed.

see also DNA fingerprint; Exhumation.

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Identification of Christopher Columbus' Remains

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