Scientists seek Copernicus' uncle's remains to confirm finding

Polish archaeologists have launched a search for the grave of an uncle of Nicolaus Copernicus in hopes the relative’s DNA can confirm that remains they found last year are indeed those of the 16th-century astronomer, the head of the research team said today.

“We are almost sure we found Copernicus’s remains last year, but we still need to confirm it through comparison with the DNA of someone related on the female side,” said Jerzy Gassowski, who is head of the Archaeology and Anthropology Institute in Pultusk in central Poland.

The team began its search this week for the coffin of Bishop Lukasz Watzenrode, who was Copernicus’ maternal uncle and who was buried in 1512 in a crypt under the floor of the Roman Catholic cathedral in Frombork, about 180 miles north of the capital, Warsaw.

Other bishops and priests were buried in the crypt after Watzenrode, making the search to find him difficult, Gassowski said.

“We are at a very early stage of the search which could go into next year,” Gassowski said.

Last year, Gassowski’s team discovered remains in the church they believe to be those of Copernicus, the astronomer who challenged the ancient belief that the sun revolved around the earth. He died in 1543 at the age of 70 and was buried in the Frombork cathedral.

After the remains were found last year, forensic experts used the skull to reconstruct a face which closely resembled the features and the broken nose on a self-portrait of Copernicus.

The skull bears a cut mark above the left eye that corresponds with a scar on the self-portrait and experts determined that it belonged to a man who died aged about 70.


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