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DNA solves mystery of Copernicus remains

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-20

Through the DNA analysis of two hairs and a tooth, scientists have confirmed that remains found in Poland in 2005 are those of famous 15th-century astronomer Nicolas Copernicus. The revelation marks the end of a 200-year hunt.

DNA studies on two strands of hair and a tooth have ended a centuries-old hunt for the tomb Nicolas Copernicus, the 15th-century astronomer who shocked the world by declaring that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, experts said Thursday.
  
The tests confirmed that remains found in Frombork Cathedral in northern Poland in 2005 are those of the man considered the father of modern astronomy, Polish archaeologist Jerzy Gassowski said.
  
Born in Torun, northern Poland, in 1473 the mathematician and clergyman is celebrated for his heliocentric theory of the universe which puts the Sun, rather than the Earth, at its centre.
  
Scientists compared genetic material from two strands of hair found in Calendarium Romanum Magnum, a book by Johannes Stoeffler published in 1518 and owned by Copernicus for many years, to a tooth from the skull found in Frombork.
  
"The two strands of hair found in the book have the same genome sequence as the tooth from the skull and a bone from Frombork," scientist Marie Allen from Uppsala University in Sweden told journalists.
  
The Calendarium Romanum Magnum and other books that once belonged to Copernicus were taken to Sweden during the 17th Century Polish-Swedish wars and are now held by Uppsala University.
  
Copernicus' final resting place has until now remained a mystery. Polish, French and German researchers have tried for two centuries to find his tomb, Gassowski said.
  
"When the bishop of Frombork asked me to begin a search, I was sceptical. It seemed an impossible task. There are hundreds of remains buried in the cathedral," he said.
  
Copernicus was the canon of Frombork cathedral and therefore was likely to have been buried beneath its floor.
  
In 2005 archaeologists found the remains of a 70-year-old man in the main Holy Cross altar of the Gothic cathedral on the Polish Baltic Sea coast.
  
The skull was handed over to the Central Forensics Laboratory at Poland's National Police Headquarters who used computer graphics to create a facial reconstruction of an older man who bore a striking resemblance to portraits of the young Copernicus -- including a scar above his right eyebrow.
  
Coperincus shocked his contemporaries by asserting that the Earth rotated on its axis once a day and travelled around the Sun once a year in his pioneering work De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres), published shortly before his death in 1543.
  
Earlier beliefs based on the Ptolemaic theory put the Earth at the centre of the universe, with the Sun and stars revolving around it. His groundbreaking work was condemned by Pope Paul V in 1616 as contrary to scripture.
  
"Now we will be able to pay homage to Copernicus with a tomb worthy of this illustrious historic personality," Bishop of Frombork, Jacek Jezierski said.

Date created : 2008-11-20

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