Independent (United Kingdom)
16 April 2002

At last, DNA may reveal the truth of Columbus tomb

                       By Elizabeth Nash in Madrid

                       Scientists plan to exhume the remains of Christopher Columbus in
                       Seville Cathedral to make sure they are really his. They suspect the
                       body held aloft by four sculpted figures representing the ancient
                       kingdoms of Spain might actually be of his son Diego, removed from
                       the Dominican Republic centuries ago by mistake.

                       A team led by a forensic scientist at the University of Granada
                       proposes to compare the DNA with the remains of another son,
                       Fernando, who is also buried in Seville Cathedral. A positive result
                       would end 125 years of dispute over whether the man who
                       "discovered" America truly rests in the city from where he set sail in
                       1492, or in Santo Domingo, where he made his historic landfall in
                       the New World.

                       The idea was proposed by Marcial Castro Sanchez, a genealogist
                       and history teacher at a secondary school near Seville. He was
                       inspired by the work of the Oxford-based geneticist Brian Sykes on
                       DNA testing across generations to resolve unanswered historical
                       questions. "I realised this technique could be applied to Christopher
                       Columbus, so I went with 18 of my pupils to visit Jose Antonio
                       Lorete Acosta at his Laboratory of Genetic Identification at Granada
                       University, and he was delighted to help," Mr Castro said. "The
                       professor pondered the problem for years but hadn't known how to
                       solve it."

                       Columbus died in the Spanish city of Valladolid in 1506, and his
                       body was buried first in Seville's Carthusian monastery, then
                       transferred to Santo Domingo Cathedral at the request of his son
                       Diego's widow.

                       There he remained until 1795, when the Caribbean island fell into
                       French hands and Spaniards excavated the tomb near the altar and
                       shipped the bones to Havana, a Spanish colony. Mr Castro says:
                       "Since Christopher was buried near Diego, it's possible the wrong
                       remains were removed."

                       Doubts arose in 1877 when builders replacing the paving slabs of
                       Santo Domingo Cathedral uncovered a lead box bearing the
                       inscription: "Illustrious and enlightened male Don Cristobal Colon."

                       It contained 41 bone fragments and a bullet possibly left in a wound
                       during the explorer's youth. Next to the tomb was a box inscribed
                       with the name of Luis, a grandson who died in Algeria. Some
                       experts say his remains never reached the Caribbean.

                       In 1898, when Cuba fell to the Americans, Spaniards again salvaged
                       Columbus's supposed remains and brought them to Seville
                       Cathedral, where his son Fernando also lies. An analysis of nuclear
                       DNA would establish connections between direct family members,
                       and analysis of mitocondrial DNA could prove links with maternal
                       descendants, of whom there is a sprawling family. Mr Castro said
                       they were trying to raise money for the project.

                       "Even if we found the remains weren't him, it wouldn't matter,
                       because his tomb would be just as important as a cenotaph in his
                       honour. There shouldn't be any difficulty about exhuming the
                       remains. After all, he's been dug up nine times already."